NEW YORK (AP/WCBS 880) – A political operative accused of cheating Mayor Michael Bloomberg out of $1.1 million slapped together a slipshod budget for the billionaire’s campaign because he believed no one cared about the details in a win-at-all-costs environment fostered by mayoral insiders desperate to hold on to power, his lawyer said Tuesday.
WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell On The Case
In closing arguments, Dennis Vacco said his client John Haggerty was asked to provide the campaign with a loose estimate of costs for a poll-watching operation long after the mayor’s 2009 re-election campaign had committed to the plan.
“He knew they weren’t going to rely on this budget,” the defense attorney told jurors in Manhattan Supreme Court. “Just like a typical government operative … he just slapped anything together.”
Prosecutors argue the Bloomberg campaign relied on the budget when it made a donation to the state Independence Party to finance the poll-watching effort. Haggerty is accused of mounting only a meager operation, then pocketing some of the money to buy a house.
On Tuesday, Vacco said that Haggerty’s $750,000 income for his work as a consultant to the Independence Party on the so-called “ballot security” effort was lucrative but legitimate.
“It’s a lot of money, but it wasn’t a crime,” he said.
The budget provided by Haggerty days before the election has become a key point in the case. In it, Haggerty outlined plans to pay more than 1,300 poll-watchers as well as plans for hotel rooms, office space and more. Prosecutors say that few of those expenses ever materialized. Witnesses have testified that they saw elements of a poll-watching operation in place, but of the four watchers who took the stand, none was paid.
Haggerty’s lawyers have tried to paint a picture of a billionaire candidate who indiscriminately threw his money at problems – a depiction that Bloomberg himself contested on the stand. Vacco argues that if Bloomberg’s staffers – several of whom took the stand – were desperate to win at all costs, then Haggerty can’t be held accountable for his budget.
“It was a win-at-all-costs campaign for all of them because they saw what was at risk,” he said Tuesday. “They were all working for the richest man in the city who was also mayor. And if he lost that race, they would lose that rare combination of political power and the wealth of their benefactor.”
Haggerty, 42, is a veteran of several prominent New York Republican campaigns. As a volunteer on Bloomberg’s 2009 campaign, Haggerty was the point man on ballot security, a term used mainly by Republicans for poll watching with an eye to preventing voter fraud. Democrats in New York and elsewhere have long said it’s a euphemism for suppressing votes, often in minority-heavy precincts.
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