Aide allegedly stole $1m from N.Y. mayor
NEW YORK - A political consultant accused of stealing more than $1 million from Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been turned into a scapegoat by mayoral staffer members eager to distance themselves from unsavory campaign practices, a defense lawyer told jurors yesterday as the consultant’s criminal trial began.
“There is fraud here, but it’s campaign fraud by Mr. Bloomberg and his people,’’ lawyer Raymond Castello said in his opening statement at John Haggerty’s trial.
Haggerty is accused of taking the mayor’s money to underwrite an elaborate 2009 poll-watching effort but then mounting only a meager operation and using most of the cash to buy his father’s house.
The mayor’s representatives have said that his campaign broke no laws and followed standard practices. Prosecutors have not accused him of wrongdoing.
But the defense told Manhattan jurors that the case would revolve around the billionaire mayor, and they sought to paint a picture of a self-financed candidate surrounded by loyalists who skirted campaign rules, blurred the line between the public and private sphere, and didn’t hesitate to bend the law to Bloomberg’s benefit.
“This case is about winning at all costs. That’s what Michael Bloomberg is all about,’’ Castello told the jurors. “He spent over $100 million to win his third term as mayor of New York City. And he did not want to lose.’’
Prosecutors gave a less dramatic accounting of events, saying that Haggerty had outlined plans to provide more than 1,300 poll-watchers and instead pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars and executed a coverup after questions were raised by a reporter.
Haggerty did not have the money to buy his father’s house, but he did have “access to one of the largest mayoral campaigns this city has ever seen . . . and with it, the mayor’s money,’’ Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Brian Weinberg told the jurors.
The case could be uncomfortable for the mayor, who is expected to testify, and stands to provide a rare peek behind the scenes of the $109 million campaign effort. Lawyers said that Bloomberg’s first deputy mayor, Patricia Harris, would be among several staffers called to testify.