There is "overwhelming" evidence against a political operative charged with bilking New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg out of more than $1 million, and the billionaire mayor's wealth and stature don't make the case a victimless crime, a judge said Tuesday.
The judge turned down John Haggerty's bid to get the grand larceny and other charges against him dismissed and close a case that has stirred political intrigue. The judge did dismiss a grand larceny charge against Haggerty's company, Special Elections Operations LLC, for technical reasons, but the firm still faces money laundering and other charges.
Prosecutors say Haggerty got the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent mayor to give $1.1 million to the state Independence Party for a partywide poll-watching effort in 2009, when Bloomberg was running for re-election. The party paid Haggerty $750,000. Prosecutors say he used it to buy his late father's house and pay personal expenses instead of mounting the anti-election-fraud project _ work known in political circles as ballot security.
Haggerty's lawyers have said he did his job, Bloomberg and the party got the operation they wanted and Bloomberg's campaign suffered no harm.
Haggerty can press his claims at a trial, but they don't amount to a reason to throw out the case now, Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Ronald A. Zweibel determined in a ruling issued Tuesday.
"The evidence of guilt, whether admissible at trial or not, is overwhelming," Zweibel wrote, saying prosecutors had presented witnesses, documents and Haggerty's own e-mails to the grand jury that indicted him. The judge concluded the mayor was indeed harmed by the alleged loss of more than $1 million and because the episode "caused questions to be raised about Mayor Bloomberg's integrity."
Bloomberg is not implicated in the case.
"(Haggerty) is not Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor," the judge wrote. "The bottom line is that (he) sought to enrich himself at Mayor Bloomberg's expense and got caught."
The judge barred Haggerty's lawyers and prosecutors Tuesday from talking to reporters about the case. Bloomberg's representatives didn't immediately respond to an inquiry about Tuesday's developments.
Haggerty, a Republican, has worked for prominent Republicans including former Gov. George Pataki and former state Attorney General Dennis Vacco, now Haggerty's lead defense lawyer.
Haggerty became the Bloomberg campaign's point man on ballot security in 2009, arranging the mayor's personal donation to the Independence Party and outlining a roughly $1.1 million budget for an office, poll watchers and other expenses, prosecutors say. They say he actually did little work and then concocted phony checks and other documents to cover his tracks after a reporter began asking questions.
Haggerty's lawyers have said he didn't spend the money on anything illegal.
The Independence Party, the state's third-largest political party, hasn't been charged with any crime but has taken heat from prosecutors and a civil-court judge over Haggerty. Prosecutors have said in a lawsuit that the party "knew or should have known about" Haggerty's alleged scheme; a civil-court judge has frozen the party's bank accounts and said its conduct "doesn't smell right."
The party says it did nothing wrong and didn't know anything about Haggerty's alleged plan to pocket the money.