By Howard Koplowitz
Opening arguments began Monday in the case against John Haggerty, a Queens political operative and Bloomberg campaign volunteer who is accused of stealing $1.1 million of the mayor’s money in 2009.
In Manhattan Criminal Court, prosecutors claimed Haggerty was motivated to commit the alleged theft because he wanted to buy out his brother’s share of their late father’s lavish Forest Hills Gardens home.
Bloomberg gave a $1.1 million contribution to the state Independence Party’s housekeeping account with the expectation that it would go toward a ballot security operation Haggerty was managing on the mayor’s behalf.
But prosecutors claimed Haggerty set up a shell company and used the money to buy out his brother’s share in the Forest Hills Gardens home, not for ballot security.
“The defendant wanted to own that home outright, but he would need $1 million, money he didn’t have,” Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Brian Weinberg told jurors. “The defendant devised a scheme to steal the mayor’s money just so he could buy that house.”
Weinberg said Bloomberg was expected to take the stand in the trial and that he would testify he never authorized Haggerty to use the money for a house.
But lawyers for Haggerty contended no crime was committed and that Haggerty only received $750,000, which was payment for ballot security operations on Election Day in 2009.
“John Haggerty didn’t commit a crime for a very simple reason: No victim, no crime,” said his attorney, Raymond Costello.
Costello said the $1.1 million Bloomberg gave to the Independence Party constituted a gift and that the party could do whatever it wanted with the money.
He said that if the money was intended for a poll-watching operation, then Bloomberg skirted campaign finance laws because he never showed ballot security as an expense on his campaign finance disclosures.
The attorney pointed out that Bloomberg and his campaign staff were given immunity from charges when they testified before a grand jury.
“The story here is not about theft — there was none,” Costello said. “It’s about winning at all costs.”
Costello claimed Bloomberg did not want his campaign to do the ballot security because he was running against a black candidate — then-city Comptroller William Thompson — and the term “ballot security” has a bad connotation that makes it sound like voter suppression.
Weinberg said Haggerty was trusted by the campaign and was chosen by Bloomberg’s chief political aide, Kevin Sheekey, to run ballot security because Haggerty had performed those duties for the mayor before.
The assistant district attorney said Haggerty pegged the cost of the operation, with 1,355 poll watchers, at $1.1 million and claimed Haggerty presented phony invoices that were “just part of the defendant’s scheme to get the mayor’s money.”
Weinberg claimed Haggerty incorporated a company, Special Election Operations, a month after Election Day to take the payments from the Independence Party for ballot security.
Costello said the fact that the company was incorporated at that time was not “sinister” and said plans to set up the firm were in place a year before the incorporation.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.