Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The congressman, the rabbi and the pornographers

Information continues to trickle out about the unusual links between first-term Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) and a prominent Israeli Rabbi, Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto. After tapping the rabbi’s followers for money, Grimm received money from several individuals involved in porn distribution businesses. One of the rabbi’s closest aides, Benzion Suky, owned a company that distributed porn videos and has settled lawsuits by adult film studios who accused him of selling bootlegged DVDs, according to court records. Suky and his wife gave a combined $9,600 to Grimm’s 2010 campaign and a real estate partnership that lists Suky as its managing member gave $4,800, according to Federal Election Commission records. Another big donor was Rafi Maman, proprietor of companies in North Bergen, N.J., that distribute adult films and sex toys. He also has settled lawsuits accusing him of bootlegging, including two which also named Suky as a defendant. Maman, his wife and a real estate partnership that he listed as his employer gave $19,200 to Grimm’s campaign. That total includes $7,200 in individual contributions from Maman, or $2,400 more than is allowed by law. A third Grimm contributor, Eli Halali, is listed in business records as the agent of another company that distributed pornographic movies. His name also appears on at least one such video, “Blonde & Beautiful Vol. 1,” as the keeper of records verifying that the film’s performers were over age 18. He gave $4,800. Two apparent relatives, Bluria Halali and Jaclyn Halali, each contributed $4,800. The FBI has been looking at Grimm’s fundraising since at least January 2012, due to concerns about the role that an Israeli named Ofer Biton, an aide to Pinto, played in Grimm’s campaign. Grimm, a former FBI agent, has acknowledged receiving between $250,000 to $300,000 from Pinto’s supporters but has denied knowledge of any wrongdoing. “My campaign and I followed the fundraising rules, and took reasonable measures to vet the contributions received by my campaign,” Grimm said in a statement. “Indeed, I relied on Rabbi Pinto’s status as a clergyman and holy man when agreeing to meet with individuals associated with his congregation.” FEC records show that Suky has donated tens of thousands of dollars to committees controlled by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) in the 2008 cycle. (The top seven donors to Cantor’s 2008 campaign were followers or associates of Rabbi Pinto.) Halili donated several thousand to former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) in 2010. Pinto’s organization, Mosdot Shuva Israel, controls millions of dollars in assets.

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