Currently starting his 3rd term in the 11th New York Congressional District
Michael Grimm is a relative newcomer to the national political scene, having been elected to public office for the first time in 2010. As of this writing in late December 2014, Grimm had recently been re-elected to the United States House of Representatives for his third term. Thanks to his relatively short time in the public sphere, Grimm’s dossier is thinner than some of the others profiled in this feature, but he’s made up for a lack of quantity with quality… of a sort. Also, his misdeeds have led to what appears to be a looming resignation, possibly within the next few days.
Let’s get started with the basics… born in 1970, Grimm was raised in Queens to a mostly Italian-American family. He served in the Marine Corps from 1989 to 1991 in active duty, and then as a reservist until 1997. He served in Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield and apparently acquitted himself well. He then worked for the FBI as a clerk for a few years, then was eventually accepted to the FBI Academy in 1995. He became a special agent, and eventually an undercover agent, working to infiltrate organized crime families and disrupt money laundering among stock brokers on Wall Street.
It was during his time with the FBI that his first red flag appears. In 1999, the 29 year old Grimm found himself at a nightclub in Queens. He had an altercation with the estranged husband of a woman he was with, that eventually led to Grimm leaving and returning with a gun. According to multiple eyewitnesses, Grimm spent quite a while screaming and ranting, while repeatedly threatening to kill the estranged husband. He was said to have at one point yelled for all white people in the club to leave, while demanding other patrons to get up against the wall. Grimm repeatedly told everyone nearby that he was an FBI agent, while brandishing his gun and threatening the husband. The entire episode lasted through the evening and into the early morning, and eventually required intervention by moonlighting NYPD officers at the club. The FBI defended Grimm, refused to interview the off-duty police officers, and essentially buried the incident.
After a decade in the Bureau, Grimm resigned, citing stress and long hours. He bounced around the investment and banking world for a year, then founded a restaurant in 2006, a health food establishment called Healthalicious. He also served as CEO of a Texas based biofuel company called Austin Refuel Transport.
In 2010, Grimm decided to run for the US House, representing Staten Island, the only Republican-leaning part of New York City. He received endorsements from Rudy Guiliani and the New York State Conservative Party. He won narrowly over incumbent Michael McMahon in a big Republican year.
He won re-election slighty wider in 2012, and this past fall won by 13% against an immensely incompetent opponent, despite his own mounting legal issues.
So, other than being a hothead 15 years ago, what makes Grimm so unelectable? Abusing his status as a federal cop and threatening a man with a gun is bad, but this was a long time ago.
It turns out that his business dealings in the late 2000s and his campaign in 2010 were not exactly aboveboard.
In August 2012, the office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York began an investigation of the financing of his 2010 House campaign. A House Ethics Committee inquiry started a few months later, but was deferred temporarily.
By 2014, the investigation began to pay off. Diana Durand, a friend of Grimm’s from Houston, was found to have contributed more than $10,000 illegally to his 2010 campaign, through the use of straw donors. She eventually plead guilty to the charge. Grimm himself denied having any knowledge of the situation.
In addition, the investigation ended up resulting in the arrest of another friend of Grimm’s, one Ofer Biton, an Israeli citizen who helped with fund raising in 2010. He was caught committing visa fraud.
Around that point, the investigation branched out from mere campaign financing to an in-depth exploration of Grimm’s business dealings. It was discovered that he underreported earnings from his restaurant Healthalicious by more than $900,000 over a four year period. In April 2014, he was formerly indicted on 20 separate charges, including filing false tax returns based on his underreported income, hiring undocumented workers, paying workers under the table, and perjury. Grimm initially denied the bulk of the charges, but eventually plead guilty to withholding his extra income and filing false taxes, as well as a count of perjury.
From an investigation of a few grand worth of excess campaign donations, the validity of Grimm’s entire business career started to unravel. Meanwhile, he showed his class in other areas.
The old hothead in Grimm emerged in January 2014, immediately following the President’s State of the Union address. Michael Scotto, a reporter for NY1, met with Grimm on the balcony of the House rotunda for a quick interview. Toward the end of the interview, Scotto asked Grimm about the then-ongoing investigation into his campaign finance violations. Grimm refused to talk about the issue and started to walk away. Scotto turned to the camera, stating, “Congressman Michael Grimm does not want to talk about some of the allegations concerning his campaign finances … but as you saw he refused to talk about that.”
Hearing this, Grimm stormed back, leaning over the smaller Scotto. With the camera still rolling, they began a very revealing exchange.
Grimm: “Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again I’ll throw you off this fucking balcony!”
Scotto: “Why, why, I just wanted to ask you?”
Grimm: “If you ever do that to me again…”
Scotto: “Why, why, it’s a valid question?”
Grimm: “No, no, you’re not man enough, you’re not man enough. I’ll break you in half. Like a boy.”
Yep. A member of the United States House of Representatives, serving more than 720,000 American citizens, threatened to throw a reporter off a balcony on television. While being asked about his own political and personal corruption. Amazingly enough, Grimm initially refused to apologize, and did his best to justify his behavior, although the next day he did release a formal statement of apology.
According to NY1’s political director, Grimm also erupted at Errol Louis – another NY1 reporter – back in 2012, and demanded to “take it outside.” Essentially, Grimm challenged a reporter to street fight.
So, November rolled around, and Grimm had been charged with 20 counts of various illegal business dealings, as well as being filmed physically threatening a reporter, and two different people had been charged with crimes related to his campaign financing. Surely this is proof that he’s completely unfit to serve in Washington. Well, not according to the citizens of Staten Island, who re-elected Grimm by more than 13,000 votes in a projected toss-up district.
As of this writing on December 26, Grimm had just 3 days ago formally plead guilty to tax evasion and officially admitted to illegal hiring and perjury. However, he’s also putting his own party in a difficult spot, as he as refused to resign, and plans on continuing to serve in Congress.
More than likely, he will eventually be formerly censured, and faces up to 30 months in prison. Nobody has ever served a full term from a jail cell before, and he probably won’t be the first, but his current refusal to step down is going to complicate the situation.
Grimm has shown himself to be quick to anger, and is willing to threaten other people’s lives. He has admitted to fraud and corruption, on the order of at least a million dollars. Despite his relative youth, Michael Grimm is most definitely unelectable.
For further information on Michael Grimm, here are a multitude of good resources: