Threatening to break a reporter in half and throw him over a balcony is only the most recent colorful incident in the long, weird career of ex-military, ex-FBI New York Rep. Michael Grimm.
The incident that caught the public's attention occurred when Michael Scotto, a reporter from New York City's NY1, was interviewing Grimm after the State of the Union on Tuesday night. This morning, Scotto offered more details of the incident. Scotto planned to ask Grimm a question about recent allegations, but Grimm instead walked away. Angry, he returned, telling Scotto, "You ever do that to me again I'll throw you off this fucking balcony." He said this in front of a rolling camera, an video of the incident quickly ended up online.
Grimm is under investigation for campaign finance violations.
What Scotto hoped to ask Grimm about were allegations that Grimm's 2010 election to Congress had included illegal campaign contributions. Earlier this month, the New York Daily News reported on allegations that donors to Grimm's campaign had been involved in "donor-swapping." In this case, the allegation was that donors to his campaign also donated to another candidate, and donors to that second candidate simultaneously gave to Grimm. The effect is that donors spend twice the contribution limit and Grimm gets twice as much money, half of it from people who wouldn't otherwise donate. The Daily News "found more than 20 transactions that suggest supporters of Grimm and candidates in California, South Dakota, Illinois and Virginia swapped donations totalling more than $75,000."
Two weeks ago, one of the people allegedly involved in that scheme — Diana Durand, a former girlfriend of Grimm's — was arrested in Houston for election fraud and lying to federal agents. Over the summer, another donor copped to a visa violation for his alleged role in pushing money to Grimm. Grimm's lawyer offered a statement on Durand: "We are saddened that the government took the extraordinary step of arresting a single mother on these allegations."
He's a veteran and former FBI agent with a sketchy background in business.
When Grimm ran for election that year, the Staten Island Advance said that he "remains an enigma to residents" of the New York borough that makes up the bulk of his congressional district.
What they did know came largely from his campaign biography: leaving college to join the Marines, serving in the first Gulf War, joining the FBI as an undercover agent focused on financial crimes.
In 2012, The New York Times profiled Grimm's unusual work record. "Before becoming an F.B.I. agent for a decade," the newspaper writes, "Mr. Grimm worked for a year for a small firm on Wall Street that frequently ran into problems with regulators and customers, regulatory filings show. But his official biographies do not mention the firm, Whale Securities." When he left the Bureau, he founded a restaurant, Healthalicious, which "has been accused in a lawsuit of cheating its workers and fined by the state for failing to carry workers’ compensation."
The Times also dug into his business relationship with a former FBI colleague, Carlos Luquis, who ended up being imprisoned after being convicted of stealing millions of dollars from customers of an electricity company in Texas. "In May 2006, days after Mr. Grimm left the F.B.I., he and a partner, Harold Rosenbaum, borrowed $1.34 million from a bank and agreed to pay $965,000 to Mr. Luquis’s company, Hill Castle Homes, to build a house near Austin, Tex., according to property and court records." Later, Grimm allegedly asked to be released from a debt to a contractor after saying that "the builder" had "misappropriated a large portion of the construction loan." When Luquis was released on parole, Grimm gave him a job at a biofuel company he founded in Austin.
His biggest FBI success was questioned by The New Yorker.
In May of 2011, The New Yorker looked at the FBI's use of paid informants through the lens of an operation called "Wooden Nickel" — starring none other then FBI Agent Michael Grimm. The operation resulted in a number of arrests for financial crimes thanks to Grimm's undercover work, but also raises questions about the extent to which the agency (and Grimm) relied on the questionable work of a colorful informant named Josef Franz Prach von Habsburg-Lothringen.
Among those arrested was Albert Santoro, who was charged with money laundering after being given $100,000 by Grimm. That investigation was cut short when one of Santoro's employees tipped her boss off that Grimm, who was undercover and using the name Garibaldi, was enrolled in her night law school class using his real name. Santoro was "arrested early" as a result, according to Grimm — before he actually laundered that $100 grand.
Grimm and the FBI stood behind the case.
He got in a (disputed) fight at a nightclub.
But the most remarkable story from The New Yorker piece involves an incident in 1999 at a club called Caribbean Tropics. An off-duty cop named Gordon Williams was working security.
Shortly after midnight, Michael Grimm walked in with a woman of Caribbean descent. The woman’s estranged husband, who is also of Caribbean descent, was at the club and confronted Grimm. The two men began to argue. Williams escorted Grimm away. Williams recalled, “He said to me, ‘Thanks a lot man, he don’t know who he’s fucking with.’ Then he said something frightening. ‘I’ll fuckin’ make him disappear where nobody will find him.’ ” (Grimm calls this allegation “insane.”)
Later in the evening, the fight flared back up, with Grimm allegedly drawing his weapon. "He's screaming, ‘I’m gonna fuckin’ kill him.’," Williams said. "So I said to him, ‘Who are you?’ He put the gun back in his waist and said, ‘I’m a fucking F.B.I. agent, ain’t nobody gonna threaten me.’"
Unsurprisingly, Grimm disputes the story.
He barely won election in the only Republican part of New York City.
The district Grimm represents covers all of Staten Island — which is heavily Republican — and a bit of Brooklyn — which is not. (Staten Island was the only borough not to vote for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.) He won in 2010 by only three points, but by a wider margin in 2012. That same year, though, the district voted for President Obama over Mitt Romney by a four-point margin, compared to the three-point margin it gave McCain in 2008. In November, Grimm will likely face Domenic Recchia, a city councilmember, in any reelection bid.
If his aggressive statement after the NY1 incident is any guide — "I doubt that I am the first Member of Congress to tell off a reporter, and I am sure I won’t be the last" — he still seems pretty likely to run again.