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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Show Trial for Haggerty? Cover-up For Bloomberg?

Are Manhattan prosecutors hiding something about New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg's political operation during his successful third-term re-election bid in 2009?  Are these prosecutors hoping to curry favor with a deep-pocketed soon-to-be-ex-mayor in order to advance their post-prosecutor legal careers?

These and other questions may be answered during an unusual, and very curious, criminal campaign finance trial of Republican campaign operative John Haggerty scheduled to begin this upcoming week in Manhattan Supreme Court. 

The charges against Haggerty are for grand larceny.  Allegedly, he charged the Bloomberg re-election campaign about $1.1 million for get out the vote efforts, but the money was paid to a state Independence Party account and then transferred to Haggerty. 

There is the implication -- and we'll see just how bluntly it is stated -- that Haggerty ripped off Bloomberg by either grossly overcharging his campaign, or under-delivering on the promised services.  However, there are myriad defenses that easily come to mind: the services are hard to quantify, their effectiveness (actually getting your presumed supporters to the polls) even harder to measure, the guy (Bloomberg) did win after all, and an eleventh-hour contract for election day services does by necessity imply a "fire drill" crisis for which a premium rate can be charged. 

Such "last-minute" or "emergency" attention does command premium prices.  It should almost be expected.  And I'm sure that if you call Bloomberg LP for a new database on an expedited basis, you'll get an expedited, super-high price quote.

One of the real questions is why it seems that there was no complaint from Bloomberg as to the overcharge until intrepid investigators dug into Bloomberg campaign finance filings made well after Election Day 2009.  It seems -- at least publicly, to be fair -- to wonder how valid any Bloomberg grievance (whenever it was made) really is.  Perhaps the Bloomberg campaign, however relieved for winning, was privately furious with the arrangement and/or the results but remained publicly silent.  This is both possible and plausible.  It would also be good strategy; there is little need to air dirty laundry publicly nor to get embarrassed. 

But other questions and possible explanations remain:  Was the Bloomberg campaign's professed indignation just a cover-up to hide their wink-and-nod complicity with an illicit deal? I'm sure that when investigators inquired of Bloomberg associates, they were met with the legendary Casablanca reaction of the corrupt detective -- "I'm shocked."  

There are other troubling issues.  This case seems to be an attempt to transform certain business behavior, done during a political campaign, into a felony.  Perhaps the only crime here was Haggerty's failure to use (or the Bloomberg campaign's, for that matter) a competent lawyer to draft his agreements with the Bloomberg campaign.  There ought to be some trepidation in bringing cases which, by being brought, transform civil administrative violations of the campaign finance law into felonies with criminal punishment looming. 

The political overtone to this investigation, prosecution and trial is most troubling.  Politics is intertwined in every aspect of the hard facts of the case.  However, politics also infects all the players.  The Manhattan District Attorney is an elected post.  The judges on New York State's Supreme Court -- before which this case is to be heard -- are also all elected.  Many of the judges' clerks are de facto political appointees.   This congruence of factors makes one question whether the outcome of this case will rest on the legal merits, the facts, or on a political favor that one owes to another.

Perhaps this entire investigation ought to have been handled by the U.S. Attorney's Office. 

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer who investigates complex matters.  Mr. Dixon is also an expert election lawyer on matters of ballot access.   

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