Case of Republican political consultant goes to New York jury

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 18, 2011 7:38 PM
Case of Republican political consultant goes to New York jury

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A jury was set to begin deliberations on Wednesday in a case against John Haggerty, a Republican consultant accused of stealing $1.1 million from Mayor Michael Bloomberg's massive 2009 campaign war chest.

Prosecutors have charged Haggerty with proposing a phony $1.1 million Election Day poll-watching operation, convincing Bloomberg to donate money to the state Independence Party to fund the project but using the money to pay for a house in Queens.

In a closing statement in state Supreme Court in Manhattan on Tuesday, defense lawyer Dennis Vacco painted Bloomberg and his aides as profligate spenders willing to pay any price to secure a third term in office.

According to Vacco, Bloomberg's $105 million campaign budget meant money was flowing to consultants with virtually no oversight, and the poll-watching funds were no exception.

"It was indeed -- for the richest man in New York City -- a win-at-all-costs campaign," Vacco said. "Why is that important? It's important because the win-at-all-costs mentality means that nobody from that campaign, from Michael Bloomberg on down, relied on a budget that John Haggerty presented."

But Assistant District Attorney Eric Seidel noted several Bloomberg aides testified they would not have approved the money without assurances from Haggerty.

Seidel pointed to bank records showing Haggerty used money wired from the Independence Party -- ostensibly to pay expenses related to the poll-watching operation -- to make payments on the house.

He also focused on e-mails from Haggerty to various Bloomberg aides that he said demonstrated Haggerty planned his fraud for months, carefully creating the illusion he would provide a sweeping "ballot security" operation with more than 1,300 paid poll watchers and an army of lawyers.

Haggerty's decision to provide phony checks to poll watchers after a reporter began asking questions, as well as his creation of a "shell" company to collect the money, showed he knew he broke the law, Seidel argued.

Vacco also told jurors that Bloomberg could not have been a victim of larceny, since he gave the money voluntarily to the Independence Party, and that the party was then free to use that money in any way, including giving it to Haggerty.

But Seidel argued that the party was similarly duped by Haggerty's promises.

Haggerty faces charges of grand larceny and money laundering. Last week, Justice Ronald Zweibel dismissed three counts of falsifying business records -- based on the fake checks -- because they were not technically campaign records.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Jerry Norton)