NEW YORK, Sept 26 (Reuters) - For all the focus on
political intrigue, the vagaries of campaign-finance law and
the spectacle of Mayor Michael Bloomberg on the witness stand,
the case against John Haggerty boils down to an old cliche:
follow the money.
That was the message from prosecutors to a jury in
Manhattan Supreme Court Monday, as testimony began in the trial
of Haggerty, a longtime Republican operative charged with
stealing more than $1 million from Bloomberg during his 2009
Haggerty's motive was a $600,000 house purchase, money he
didn't have, Assistant District Attorney Brian Weinberg told
"What he did have was access to one of the largest mayoral
campaigns this city has ever seen -- Mayor Michael Bloomberg's
2009 reelection campaign -- and with it the mayor's money,"
But defense lawyer Raymond Costello accused the mayor and
the Manhattan District Attorney's office of using Haggerty as a
convenient scapegoat to deflect attention from what he
suggested were campaign finance violations committed by
Bloomberg and his campaign aides.
"This case is not about theft," he said in his opening
statement. "This case is about winning at all costs. That's
what Michael Bloomberg is about."
The mayor himself -- whom Weinberg promised would testify,
along with several of his top lieutenants -- is not expected to
take the stand until next week.
PUTTING BLOOMBERG ON TRIAL
Many of the basic facts of the case are essentially
In 2009, the Bloomberg campaign determined that it needed
what's known as ballot security -- observers who are hired to
monitor polling places on Election Day, ensure that eligible
voters are able to cast ballots and respond to problems such as
Kevin Sheekey, a veteran Bloomberg advisor, suggested that
Haggerty run the operation, as he had done in 2005 in
partnership with the Republican Party. Bloomberg, a billionaire
who finances his own campaigns, then made a pair of
contributions totaling $1.2 million to the Independence Party
with the expectation that it would help fund the ballot
Prosecutors said Haggerty used the money he received from
the party to buy the house, and argued that Bloomberg would
never have made the donation without assurances from Haggerty
about his operation.
But Haggerty's lawyers say he did in fact provide ballot
security and that the money was no longer Bloomberg's to
control once it landed in the Independence Party's bank
As Costello moved through his opening, it became clear that
the defense strategy is to put Bloomberg and his
campaign-finance methods on trial, rather than Haggerty.
In particular the defense focused on Bloomberg's decision
to send money to the Independence Party rather than directly to
Haggerty. But as Sheekey pointed out, this mirrored the way
Bloomberg had handled the matter in the 2001 and 2005
elections. In those years, he made sizable personal
contributions to the Republican Party, which then headed up an
extensive ballot security operation.
Howard Wolfson, the 2009 campaign's spokesman and now a
deputy mayor, has said the indirect funding was appropriate
because political parties traditionally provide ballot
But Costello argued that the mayor was wary of being
associated with the practice, which sometimes carries negative
connotations. And he said that the contribution -- if it was
intended to help the Bloomberg campaign -- may have broken
campaign-finance laws, since the Independence Party was barred
by state law from using the money to help a specific
"You'll see this accusation for what it is: a trumped-up
charge to avoid any examination of Michael Bloomberg and his
people," Costello said.
Prosecutors began laying their foundation by calling
Sheekey as the first witness Monday.
In a 2009 email introduced as evidence, Haggerty laid out
the plan: more than 1,300 poll watchers and hundreds of
additional workers to monitor the city's polling places on
Haggerty also noted that the chairman of the Independence
Party, Frank MacKey, was "fully cooperative" with the proposal
and that Sheekey had asked to "wash in" an extra $100,000 for
the party to keep as a contribution.
Assistant District Attorney Eric Seidel asked Sheekey if he
relied on those promises when he recommended that the mayor
spend the money.
"It was based on John's representation on what would occur
on Election Day and his budget and its estimate of what it
would cost," Sheekey said.
But Haggerty's lawyers argued that Bloomberg had no ability
to control the money once it left his account and landed in the
hands of the Independence Party.
"John Haggerty did not commit a crime for a very simple
reason: no victim, no crime," Costello told the jury. "No money
was ever stolen from Michael Bloomberg. ... He knew, as you do,
that once you give a contribution to a political party, it's a
gift. You no longer control that money."
The case is People v. Haggerty, New York State Supreme
Court, New York County, No. 2598/2010.
For the prosecution: Assistant District Attorneys Eric
Seidel, Vanessa Richards and Brian Weinberg.
For Haggerty: Raymond Costello of Shaub, Ahmuty, Citrin, &
Spratt and Dennis Vacco of Lippes, Mathias, Wexler,
(Reporting by Joseph Ax)
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