A former fundraiser for Representative Michael G. Grimm who helped direct hundreds of thousands of dollars from supporters of Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto, the spiritual leader who counts many of the city’s real estate heavyweights among his followers, to Grimm’s campaign pleaded guilty to visa fraud, the New York Times reported.
Ofer Biton, an Israeli immigrant, was arrested last August and charged with lying on his visa application. In Federal District Court in Brooklyn on Friday, Biton admitted to lying about the source of $400,000 that he claimed to have put into a new business that could have made him eligible for a permanent visa.
As The Real Deal reported last fall, Grimm reportedly raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from supporters of Pinto for the 2010 election. The FBI is investigating allegations from some of Pinto’s followers that their contributions to Grimm’s campaign were illegal.
Pinto was arrested last fall for alleged bribery. The arrest came amid claims that millions of dollars in real estate investments he’s connected to cannot be accounted for.
Pinto’s followers have said that Grimm or Biton told them that the campaign would find a way to accept donations that were either over the legal limit, given in cash or given by foreigners who did not have permanent resident status.
Congressional campaigns are not allowed to accept cash donations of more than $100 and foreigners without resident status are legally barred from donating to political campaigns.
At the time of Biton’s arrest, lawyers not involved in the case said that the charges appeared to have been meant to persuade him to cooperate with the authorities in the investigation of Grimm, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing. [NYT] – James Comtois