Sunday, February 21, 2010

Shell game played with Mayor Michael Bloomberg's cash?

Adam Lisberg

Sunday, February 21st 2010, 4:00 AM

We know how much Mayor Bloomberg spent on his campaigns, but not exactly how it was spent.
Watts/News
We know how much Mayor Bloomberg spent on his campaigns, but not exactly how it was spent.

By now, we all know how much Mayor Bloomberg spent to win office: $108 million last year, $85 million in 2005, $73 million in 2001.

However, we still don't know where it all went.

Prosecutors are asking what happened to $750,000 paid last year to a shell company run by Queens operative John Haggerty, six days before he bought a $1.6 million house.

Haggerty was supposed to hire Election Day poll watchers, but can't account for as much as $400,000 of it. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has subpoenaed him to find out more.

It wasn't Haggerty's first involvement with a shell company working for Bloomberg. In 2005, he worked with another firm set up to handle the mayor's door-to-door operation - one that was paid almost $2 million and run by a once-indicted lawyer.

Robert Allan Muir was hired by the Bloomberg campaign in 2005 to knock potential rivals off the Republican ballot after Haggerty helped challenge them. At the Board of Elections, however, Muir was barred from representing Bloomberg because he represented the board itself in a different case - a clear conflict of interest.

This did not deter the Bloomberg campaign, where top aides Kevin Sheekey and Patti Harris had signed off on hiring him, one source said.

Muir stopped the petition work and turned his attention to canvassing. He set up a shell company - called Campaign Research Associates - in his Brooklyn law office to hire and pay the workers who rang doorbells for Bloomberg.

Muir, who died in March 2006, was a tough-edged expert on election law with a reputation for results. He was indicted on a felony count of backdating reports in 1991, but worked it down to a misdemeanor and kept his law license. "He was clearly a crook," said someone familiar with that episode. "No question about it."

From June 2005 to June 2006, Bloomberg paid Muir's brand-new firm $1.9 million. The state Republican Party kicked in another $200,000 for Election Day poll watchers. Muir's wife, Ilsa Beltran Muir, also got $217,000 as a subcontractor to another Bloomberg lawyer.

Did it really all go for lowly campaign workers? We don't know. Because Bloomberg funneled the money through a shell, he didn't have to disclose it on his campaign spending reports.

Muir's widow, in a brief interview outside her Staten Island home, said she barely remembered what she did for the campaign - her husband was terminally ill and she was taking care of their newborn daughter. She also said she hadn't spoken to Haggerty in more than two years.

Two people close to Haggerty insist he never made a penny from Campaign Research Associates, and volunteered his services to Bloomberg.

Haggerty and his lawyer, Dennis Vacco, declined to comment. Bloomberg, through a spokesman, also had nothing to say.

Given prosecutors' new interest in Haggerty, though, the Daily News asked Bloomberg 2005 campaign officials whether they could account for how Muir spent the money.

An initial review of records indicated it was properly spent on field staff, they said, plus a $100-per-worker per month fee for Muir's firm.

The public can't get a look at those records. If the Manhattan district attorney decides to knock on doors, he can.alisberg@nydailynews.com

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