WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
The high profile case of a former aide to Mayor Michael Bloomberg in which the mayor and his staffers had to testify is now in the hands of jurors who will determine the fate of the political operative accused of bilking hizzoner of more than $1 million.
In the usual trial of campaign operative John Haggerty, jurors sat through Mayor Bloomberg's testimony and a witness list that's a who's who in the Bloomberg administration, as well as his philanthropy, and they got a unique view of how the Mayor operates.
In no small way, jurors will be weighing not just Haggerty's fate, but also the credibility of Mayor Bloomberg and his most trusted aides, including First Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris. Bloomberg staffers all testified they were tricked by Haggerty into believing he was providing a comprehensive poll watching-ballot security operation for Election Day 2009.
On Wednesday, the jurors in the case adjourned after several hours of deliberations.
Haggerty allegedly convinced Mayor Bloomberg to donate $1.2 million to the New York State Independence Party, which were not disclosed to the New York City Campaign Finance Board but were reported in state filings by the Independence Party. A large chunk of that money — $1.1 million — was to be used for a party wide poll-watching initiative that Haggerty was hired to oversee.
On the last day of the trial, jurors were offered two widely divergent views of the 42-year-old campaign consultant, who was with the Bloomberg campaign in 2001, 2005 and 2009. They also got two very different takes on Mayor Bloomberg.
In his three hour closing argument, Haggerty's defense lawyer, Dennis Vacco, painted Haggerty as a loyal and key Bloomberg advisor in the campaign war room who had been cast off by Mayor Bloomberg because "he doesn't need John anymore."
Throughout the trial, the defense said Haggerty delivered as promised and was thanked for his efforts. The defense charged Haggerty was being scapegoated to distract from what they contend was Mayor Bloomberg's end run of campaign finance laws. Vacco, a former New York State Attorney General, went so far as to accuse Mayor Bloomberg of lying on the stand when he downplayed his connection to Haggerty.
In response Jason Post, a former Bloomberg Administration press officer, who now works for Mayor Bloomberg privately, released the following statement. "We heard from the defense what you would expect to hear from a lawyer trying to distract attention from the evidence and the facts. We want to thank the District Attorney for pursuing this case."
In his close, prosecutor Eric Seidel used a low key and methodical approach, laying out a long string of e-mails he said proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Haggerty had perpetrated a sophisticated con on some very sophisticated people.
But Seidel said it all unraveled once Haggerty was asked by the Bloomberg campaign to document his expenditures for the ballot security operation that was to include more than 1,300 paid poll watchers and a mini-fleet of rental cars for transportation.
"Haggerty's a con man," Seidel said. "He's not stealing from a rich man and giving it to the poor." He argued Haggerty used the money to buy his family's home. "The fact that Mayor Bloomberg has a lot of money doesn't make it any less of a crime," Seidel added.
The Bloomberg-Independence Party-Haggerty conduit was first uncovered by reporter David Seifman, and caught the attention of District Attorney Cyrus Vance's office. The report also prompted Bloomberg campaign officials to ask Haggerty for documentation of his spending on the ballot security operation.