Just when you thought you’ve heard it all, a United States Congressman who was a Marine and FBI agent before getting elected has been indicted for hiding more than $1 million in profits from a restaurant that employed a large number of illegal immigrants.
It has all the ingredients of a classic story of government corruption starring a military veteran, who continued serving his country as a federal agent before constituents in Staten Island and Brooklyn New York chose him to represent them Washington. His name is Michael Grimm, a disgraced Republican, who was slapped with a juicy, 20-count federal indictment this month.
Grimm, who is also an attorney and an accountant, was an owner and managing member of an Upper East Side fast-food restaurant called Healthalicious. From 2007 to 2010 the congressman oversaw the restaurant’s day-to-day operations and he filed false state and federal tax returns to conceal north of $1 million in sales and wages, according to the feds. He also paid cooks, cashiers and delivery persons, many of them in the U.S. illegally, hundreds of thousands of dollars off the books.
To increase the profitability of the restaurant, the indictment says, Grimm engaged in schemes to fraudulently under-report the wages he paid his workers and fraudulently under-report the true amount of money the restaurant earned to both federal and New York state tax and insurance authorities. Many of the workers did not have legal status in the United States, according to the federal complaint, and Grimm paid them in cash. This lowered the restaurant’s payroll tax costs.
It gets better. The federal complaint says that “in an attempt to conceal his schemes, in January 2013, while a member of Congress, Grimm lied under oath during a civil deposition about his role in operating the restaurant, including falsely denying that he had paid Healthalicious’ workers in cash.” That’s where the perjury charge comes in. The legislator is also charged with tax and mail fraud, not uncommon charges for many politicians who get nabbed in corruption schemes.
But this guy was supposed to be different because he used to help catch the bad guys. The assistant director in charge of New York’s FBI office, George Venizelos, summed it up on a dramatic statement saying: “As a former FBI agent, Representative Grimm should understand the motto fidelity, bravery, and integrity. “Yet he broke our credo at nearly every turn. In this 20-count indictment, Representative Grimm honored a new motto: fraud, perjury, and obstruction.”
It doesn’t end there. Venizelos continued after pointing out that Grimm violated public trust time and time again: “Representative Grimm billed himself as a patriot and an American hero. A decorated Marine. A former FBI agent, now representing his fellow citizens of Staten Island and Brooklyn. But Representative Grimm was anything but an upstanding citizen. He cheated, evaded, and then lied.”
Grimm, 44, pleaded not guilty in Brooklyn federal court today. He appeared confident and dapper in a navy blue suit and was released on $400,000 bond. Outside the courthouse he told reporters that this was a “political witch hunt” and that he will “fight tooth and nail” until he is exonerated. The shamed congressman also said he will get right back to work and serve as he always has, with “honor and distinction.”
Earlier this year Grimm made national headlines for threatening a local television reporter who asked him on camera about an FBI investigation into his campaign finances. The camera was still rolling when the lawmaker got in the reporter’s face and threatened to break him in half and throw him off a balcony in the Capitol building where the question had been asked. Grimm also used profanity in the embarrassing exchange featuring behavior unbecoming of a United States congressman.