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Taking the Stand, Bloomberg Testifies in Trial of Former Aide

Monday, October 03, 2011

It was the rarest of occurrences: a sitting mayor taking the stand in a trial against a man charged with stealing over $1 million from him.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg faced John Haggerty, 42, a Republican political consultant, who is accused of stealing $1.1 million that Bloomberg donated to the Independence Party for ballot security on Election Day in 2009.

Wearing a dark suit and red tie, Mayor Bloomberg took the stand in State Supreme Court in Manhattan shortly before 10 a.m. and testified for over 2.5 hours in a courtroom filled with reporters that Haggerty did not deliver on what he promised to do.

Known for impatience when facing public scrutiny, the mayor remained composed all throughout the defense’s tough questioning.
Instead, it was defense attorney, Raymond Castello, who grew impatient, raising his voice several times.

“I would appreciate if you answered my questions instead of volunteering information,” he told the mayor.  Castello reiterated the same point several times throughout the questioning.

Bloomberg said he donated $1.1 million to the Independence Party after an agreement was hammered out where Haggerty would act as his campaign’s representative and organize the party’s efforts to provide ballot security. Instead of using the money to deliver ballot security, prosecutors say Haggerty spent $600,000 to purchase his father’s home in Queens and spent less than $32,000 on monitoring the city’s 1,355 polling places.

“We could have done a lot of good in society,” Bloomberg said. “It’s a lot of money.”

The defense has argued that once the mayor donated the money, he could no longer decide what would be done with it.
Asked by prosecutor Eric Seidel if he would have ever donated the money to the party for other purposes, Bloomberg strongly denied it.

“I would not have given that magnitude of donation to any political party,” he said.

Mr. Haggerty’s lawyers have turned the spotlight on the mayor since the trial began last week, alleging Bloomberg had tried to hide financing of the ballot security operation. They argue he was inclined to do so, because some see it as a way to suppress votes, particularly from minority voters.

For that reason, they argue, Bloomberg gave money from his personal and not campaign account to the Independence Party, so the donation would not have to be disclosed until two months after the elections.
But the mayor denied that, saying he did not view the $1.1 million as campaign contribution. It benefited all candidates, not only him, he said.

(Photo: John Haggerty/Alec Hamilton for WNYC)

Asked by Castello if he was aware ballot security had negative connotations, Bloomberg said that might have been true at certain times and in some parts of the country, but not in New York City.

The mayor could also not recall a number of events, such as the time when he definitely decided to run in 2009, the $1.2 million donation to the Independence Party prior to the 2009 campaign, or whether his aides Patricia Harris and Kevin Sheekey told him when the $1.1 million were transferred to the Independence Party.

“We’re very happy with the way the testimony went this morning,” Dennis Vacco, Haggerty’s other attorney, told the media outside the court. “Quite frankly, we’re a little surprised with the number of questions that the mayor just simply didn’t know the answer to, didn’t remember, didn’t know.”

Vacco declined to elaborate on why exactly the mayor’s lack of memory was beneficial for his defense strategy, saying it would be clear as the trial continued.

In the courtroom, another part of the defense strategy was questioning the mayor’s credibility. Castello brought up the case of former deputy Stephen Goldsmith, whose arrest after an altercation with his wife the mayor did not reveal at the time he resigned and the mayor’s change of heart over term limits.

Castello also asked at one point if Haggerty perhaps promised something he never intended to do.

“Isn’t that what you regularly did at Salomon Brothers?” Castello asked, referring to the mayor’s 15-year-stint at the Wall Street investment bank, and surprising the courtroom with the question.

“I beg your pardon?” the even-more surprised mayor responded.

Before he was instructed by Judge Ronald Zweibel not to use it, Castello quoted from the mayor’s autobiography.

“As I found out at Salomon and again with the Bloomberg terminal, you promise users everything; then you build what you can, and what you think they need,” Castello quoted from Bloomberg by Bloomberg.

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