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Rep. Grimm Got Campaign Cash From Porn Distributors After Approaching Rabbi

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Newscom

From the AP:

One of the rabbi's closest aides, Benzion Suky, owned a company that distributed porn videos and has settled lawsuits by adult film studios who accused him of selling bootlegged DVDs, according to court records. Suky and his wife gave a combined $9,600 to Grimm's 2010 campaign and a real estate partnership that lists Suky as its managing member gave $4,800, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Another big donor was Rafi Maman, proprietor of companies in North Bergen, N.J., that distribute adult films and sex toys. He also has settled lawsuits accusing him of bootlegging, including two which also named Suky as a defendant. Maman, his wife and a real estate partnership that he listed as his employer gave $19,200 to Grimm's campaign. That total includes $7,200 in individual contributions from Maman, or $2,400 more than is allowed by law.

A third Grimm contributor, Eli Halali, is listed in business records as the agent of another company that distributed pornographic movies. His name also appears on at least one such video, "Blonde & Beautiful Vol. 1," as the keeper of records verifying that the film's performers were over age 18. He gave $4,800. Two apparent relatives, Bluria Halali and Jaclyn Halali, each contributed $4,800.

The AP notes that it is unclear whether Maman or Halili are actively involved in Pinto's congregation.

The FBI has been looking at Grimm's fundraising since at least January, when a New York Times story spotlighted the role that an Israeli named Ofer Biton, an aide to Pinto, played in Grimm's campaign. Members of Pinto's congregation told the Times that either Grimm or Biton said they could find ways to accept donations that surpassed legal limits or came from foreigners. Several people who worked on Grimm's campaign have been questioned by the FBI, according to reports, and just a few weeks ago TPM reported that the bureau was looking into the State Island lawmaker's failure to file paperwork related to an overseas trip to Cyprus. Biton, meanwhile, was arrested by the FBI last month, in a case apparently unrelated to his fundraising efforts for Grimm, for lying on immigration documents.

Grimm, a former FBI agent, has acknowledged receiving between $250,000 to $300,000 from Pinto's supporters but has denied knowledge of any wrongdoing.

"My campaign and I followed the fundraising rules, and took reasonable measures to vet the contributions received by my campaign," Grimm said in a statement to the AP. "Indeed, I relied on Rabbi Pinto's status as a clergyman and holy man when agreeing to meet with individuals associated with his congregation."

FEC records show that Suky has donated tens of thousands of dollars to committees controlled by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) in the 2008 cycle. (Laura Rozen recently reported that the top seven donors to Cantor's 2008 campaign were "followers or associates" of Rabbi Pinto.) Halili donated several thousand to former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) in 2010.

Pinto's organization, Mosdot Shuva Israel, controls millions of dollars in assets and has come under media scrutiny in the Jewish press. Over the winter, Pinto and the organization's supporters publicly accused Biton of embezzling large sums of money, allegations Biton denies.

The AP also reports that in the days leading up to the 2010 election, Pinto, the rabbi, told then-Congressman Weiner that his support of Grimm had been coerced, and that Weiner reported the allegation to the FBI. Weiner declined to discuss the details of the allegation with the AP because, he said, "I didn't know whether it was true or not." Grimm, for his part, called the suggestion that he was involved in a plot with Biton "profoundly absurd."