New York District Plagued With Scandal

New York District Plagued With Scandal

August 17, 2012, 1:06 PM

Aug. 17, 2012 -- The 13th Congressional district of New York has seen more than its share of political scandal. The son of a disgraced congressman is running against a congressman under investigation, who took over for a congressman who resigned in disgrace 35 years after another former congressman was indicted. This district, which has seen everything from fraud to infidelity, seems to be plagued with scandal.

In 1980, John "Jack" Murphy, who represented Staten Island in Congress for 18 years, lost his re-election bid prior to spending 20 months in federal prison in connection with the FBI's "Abscam" sting that framed a number of national politicians.

The sting against the elder Murphy took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The operation was intended to target trafficking of stolen property but then was redirected into to a public corruption investigation which ultimately convicted a United States senator, five members of the House of Representatives (including Murphy), a member of the New Jersey State Senate, and others involved.

Murphy was the only politician involved in the scandal who was not convicted of bribery. However, he was charged with conspiracy and receiving an unlawful gratuity of $50,000 -- landing him a spot in federal prison. Though the district numbers have changed after redistricting, Murphy's son, Mark, is now vying for the very same State Island congressional seat.

Mark Murphy, 41, the son of Jack Murphy, is a Democrat looking to unseat Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) this fall for the seat of the 13th congressional district. Though Mark Murphy has no criminal record, the father of two has a name to defend while on the campaign trail. He declined an interview with ABC News.

Kim Long, author of 2008's "The Almanac of Political Corruption Scandals and Dirty Politics," has a theory about New York's mass concentration of controversy, "Districts throughout history where there are large concentrations of people are more likely to have malfeasance among politicians." Long told ABC News. "Big cities like Chicago and New York are hotbeds for corruption. These metropolitan areas get a larger than life character that are associated with scandal and that quickly becomes fodder for the media."

That seems to be the case in this New York district. Murphy's opponent, Michael Grimm, is also under criminal federal investigation for violation of campaign finance laws. According to the NY Daily News, in July, a federal Brooklyn grand jury subpoenaed several of Grimm's campaign workers to investigate fundraising allegations made in Grimm's 2010 congressional campaign.

The public corruption department of the FBI has pursued interviewing campaign workers in an attempt to investigate the allegations that the NY congressman accepted illegal contributions. This subpoena brought a former FBI investigation, reported first by the New York Times in January, back to life.

In early 2012, the New York Times reported that Grimm, a devout Catholic and former agent for the FBI, allegedly accepted illegal donations from members of an Upper East Side rabbi's congregation. Ofer Biton, an Israeli citizen and a top aide to the prominent Orthodox rabbi, Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, came under investigation by the FBI over allegations that Biton embezzled millions of dollars from the congregation. It is said that while campaigning with Biton, the Grimm campaign collected over $500,000 in campaign contributions.

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Grimm also declined an ABC News request for an interview.

Looking back further into the 13th District's controversial past, in 2008, then Congressman Vito Fossella's was involved in a drunken driving arrest that ultimately led to revelations that he fathered a child with his mistress. At the time, Fossella was married with three children. The Congressman did not seek reelection that year.

Fossella declined an ABC News interview request.

Adding still more to this long history of scandal, almost 35 years prior to the Fossella case, in 1974, the late Bertram Podell, democratic congressman of that same district, was indicted on federal charges of conspiracy, bribery, perjury and conflict of interest, based on his involvement in efforts to obtain route approval for an airline.

The indictment alleged that he received over $40,000 to use his political influence to win a route to a tropical island for a small Florida airline. Podell plead guilty to the charges serving four months and paying fine of $5,000. The former congressman died Aug. 17, 2005 at a hospital in New York of kidney failure.

When asked why he thinks politicians are loathe to explain their actions to the public, Long says that "the nature of how politicians handle their scandals has become more corporatized." Long suggests that the higher the level of politics, the better-equipped the team surrounding the politician is to handle it.

"My feeling is that politicians are erring on the side of silence so they can't get themselves into any more trouble," Long continues. "Even if they are itching to say something, those handling their campaigns convince them that speaking about their scandals simply won't serve them well."

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