$1bn US fraud trial focuses on Mayor Bloomberg

 

New York

New York's billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg had to endure two hours of attacks on his honesty yesterday, on subjects ranging from his bid to overturn term limits to his handling of the resignation of a deputy mayor, as he appeared in the witness box at the trial of a man accused of embezzling more than $1m from him.

For observers of the trial of Republican political consultant John Haggerty, the main interest was not whether the defence would turn up any new evidence, but whether the city's imperious mayor would be snappy, snippy or downright furious under cross-examination.

In the end, Mr Bloomberg responded calmly as defence attorneys sought to suggest that his payments to Mr Haggerty amounted to an abuse of campaign finance laws by a politician who could not be trusted.

Prosecutors say the case is much more straightforward: Mr Haggerty was paid $1.1m (£700,000) to provide ballot security on election day in 2009, and he did not. He used the money instead to buy a house. "We could have done a lot of good in society with a million-odd dollars," Mr Bloomberg said. "It's a lot of money."

The money for Mr Haggerty's services – which he also provided for the first two of Mr Bloomberg's three elections – was channelled by way of a donation to the Independence Party from the mayor's personal fortune in what was one of the most expensive electoral campaigns in the city's history.

The billionaire, who founded the financial news business that bears his name, spent $109m on the campaign after persuading the city's assembly to overturn a ban on mayors seeking a third term.

Ballot security is the controversial practice of monitoring polling stations for election fraud, something that can be accused of over-stepping the line from monitoring to interfering with elections when potential voters are being challenged.

The Bloomberg campaign believed they were financing a full-blown ballot security operation, complete with an office, election day drivers and 1,355 paid poll monitors, but Mr Haggerty is on trial accused of providing little or none of that service. He denies charges of grand larceny, money laundering and falsifying business records, and his defence attorneys have suggested the donation to the Independence Party was not intended for any specific kind ballot security operation.

Rather than the curt answers Mr Bloomberg can sometimes give, he responded animatedly to some questions posed by Raymond Costello, the defence lawyer.

"If you could answer my question, Mr. Bloomberg, I'd really appreciate it, instead of volunteering information," Mr Costello said at one point.

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