NEW YORK (AP) – A political operative convicted of bamboozling Mayor Michael Bloomberg out of hundreds of thousands of dollars was sentenced to prison Monday in a case that brought the billionaire politician to the witness stand and gave the public a behind-the-scenes look at his campaign and City Hall.
John Haggerty agreed to pay $750,000 in restitution to Bloomberg in addition to his prison term of 1 1/3 to 4 years.
Haggerty, 42, was convicted in October, after a trial that jurors called a crash course in the workings of politics. Besides the business-mogul-turned-mayor, the case drew in the state’s third-largest political party and featured a coterie of Bloomberg insiders sketching their roles in his political, philanthropic and business affairs.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office said Haggerty, a veteran Republican campaign consultant, conned Bloomberg into putting up $1.1 million for an elaborate 2009 poll-monitoring effort by presenting aides with a detailed budget, complete with everything from two-way radios to some 1,300 paid poll watchers.
The Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-unaffiliated Bloomberg was then running for a third term. He provided the “ballot security” money through a personal donation to the state Independence Party, which boasted him as its marquee candidate.
Haggerty mounted a meager operation, spending only about $32,000 on it, and pocketed $750,000 of the mayor’s money to buy himself a house, prosecutors said. Haggerty later concocted a few phony poll-watcher pay stubs to try to cover his tracks, prosecutors said.
“He promised things that he didn’t do,” Bloomberg said during his calm but wary turn on the stand. Other witnesses said they saw elements of a poll-watching initiative, but the four watchers who testified said they weren’t paid.
Haggerty’s lawyers said the mayor and party got what they paid for _ results. The defense painted a picture of a free-spending campaign determined to win, unconcerned about the details of where money went, unafraid to bend campaign finance rules and eager to distance itself from Haggerty’s operation because it might be seen as unsavory.
“This was a win-at-all-costs campaign for them,” Haggerty lawyer Dennis Vacco, a former state attorney general, said in his closing argument.
He argued that the Bloomberg camp routed the money through the Independence Party _ which didn’t have to report the contribution until after the election _ to veil the campaign’s involvement with “ballot security,” a practice that has caused partisan friction for decades. Republicans say it’s about preventing voter fraud; Democrats say it’s a proxy for suppressing minority votes.
The mayor said he believed he was just financing an effort to make sure eligible voters weren’t turned away. Still, his 2009 campaign manager acknowledged he’d worried that the ballot-security initiative could look bad to the public.
While Haggerty’s payout was big, it was legitimate, Vacco said. But the consultant became a fall guy after a New York Post reporter started asking questions about the mayor’s contribution to the Independence Party, he said.
Authorities didn’t accused Bloomberg or his campaign of any wrongdoing. His representatives have said they viewed poll-watching as a party’s job, rather than a candidate’s. Bloomberg said he paid for it personally because the operation was meant to benefit all the party’s candidates, not just him.
The case has proven costly for the Independence Party, an H. Ross Perot-inspired group that counts more than 434,000 voters statewide.
The party wasn’t charged with any crimes, but prosecutors have said in a lawsuit that the party knew or should have known about Haggerty’s scheme. The lawsuit prompted a civil court judge to freeze one of the party’s accounts last winter and say its conduct “doesn’t smell right.”
The party has said it did nothing wrong and knew nothing about the alleged scam.
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