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Experts: Criminal Charges Would Complicate Election Year For Rep. Grimm

Congressman Michael Grimm speaks to the media prior to a meeting regarding the Sandy aid bill with Speaker of the House John Boehner on Jan. 2, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Congressman Michael Grimm speaks to the media prior to a meeting regarding the Sandy aid bill with Speaker of the House John Boehner on Jan. 2, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The attorney representing Republican U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm maintains that the congressman has done nothing wrong but says he’s not surprised his client is facing criminal charges from federal prosecutors.

Grimm has been dogged by allegations of campaign violations since his first campaign for Congress in 2009 and 2010. A House Ethics Committee announced in November that Grimm was under investigation for possible campaign finance violations.

“After more than two years of investigation plagued by malicious leaks, violations of grand jury secrecy, and strong-arm tactics, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has disclosed its intent to file criminal charges against Congressman Grimm,” Grimm’s attorney, William McGinley, said in the statement Friday. “When the dust settles, he will be vindicated.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn said Friday he couldn’t confirm, deny or comment on the case. The FBI’s New York office, which handles investigations, also declined to comment.

After the House Ethics Committee announced last fall that Grimm was under investigation, the panel said it would defer its inquiry because of a separate Department of Justice investigation.

A criminal indictment would have a negative impact but experts told WCBS 880’s Jim Smith that the extent of the damage remains to be seen.

“It hurts and sometimes it hurts badly, and sometimes its fatal,” Douglass Muzzio, Public Affairs Professor, Baruch College said.

Grimm made headlines in January after confronting a New York City cable news station reporter who tried to question him about a long-running FBI investigation into campaign finance on a balcony in the Capitol.

After reporter Michael Scotto finished his report, Grimm stormed back, leaned into him and said, “Let me be clear to you. If you ever do that to me again, I’ll throw you off this (expletive) balcony.”

Scotto, who was asking about fundraising during Grimm’s first campaign, protested, saying he was asking “a valid question.”

During that race, Grimm has acknowledged receiving $250,000 to $300,000 in contributions from followers of an Israeli rabbi, Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto. Some members of Pinto’s congregation subsequently said they made tens of thousands of dollars in illegal contributions, including gifts passed through straw donors.

Grimm has denied knowledge of any improprieties, and the FBI hasn’t accused him of any wrongdoing. The Israeli businessman who had served as Grimm’s liaison to Pinto’s followers, Ofer Biton, pleaded guilty in August to an immigration fraud charge.

Three days after that guilty plea, the FBI filed a sealed criminal complaint accusing a Houston woman named Diana Durand, who had been romantically involved with Grimm, of using straw donors to make illegal campaign contributions.

On Friday, Durand was indicted in Brooklyn on those charges. She also was charged with making false statements to the FBI when she said she didn’t reimburse straw donors for their contributions to Grimm’s campaign.

Attorney Stuart Kaplan said Durand would plead not guilty to the charges. Kaplan, who said Durand and Grimm met in Texas before Grimm ran for Congress, said he was hopeful prosecutors wouldn’t join the two cases.

“When you take out their relationship, there’s no evidence to connect either one with respect to complicity, violating the law by acting in concert or doing something as a criminal enterprise,” he said.

A spokesman in Grimm’s Washington office, Nick Iacono, did not immediately return emails or a telephone message seeking comment Friday.

A House member who has been indicted does not lose any rights or privileges under federal law or the chamber’s rules, according to a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Rules used by the two major political parties require indicted committee or subcommittee chairmen, or members of a party’s leadership, to temporarily step aside. Grimm is not a chairman or a member of the leadership.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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