A top campaign operative involved in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 2009 re-election bid was charged Monday with stealing approximately $1.2 million in missing campaign funds.
Veteran Queens Republican leader John Haggerty pleaded not guilty to first-degree grand larceny, second-degree money laundering and first-degree falsifying of business records.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said that Haggerty used money earmarked for poll watching in northern Queens to create a sham election company called "Special Election Operations," and then used the funds to buy a Queens house.
Haggerty's company was only formed a month after Election Day, and Haggerty showed three bogus checks to the Bloomberg campaign, according to the district attorney.
The funds included $750,000 that Bloomberg gave to the New York State Independence Party.
"The defendants's fraud was an audacious scheme, to steal funds in order to buy a house, cynically using our political party process to hide what was common thievery," said Vance.
The defense said that their client did not commit fraud.
"He was asked to do valid security by the mayor, he did valid security, he was asked to do it through the Independence Party. He did," said Raymond Castillo, Haggerty's attorney. "Mr. Haggerty did not believe that he was doing anything illegal having it handled by the company that he set up, so we're optimistic that the courts will agree with that."
Mayor Bloomberg grew testy with reporters when asked about the indictment Monday and his contributions to the state Independence Party, which funneled the money to Haggerty.
"I have a right to make donations and support people and parties who I think will help the city and this country and the state and I will continue to do it. You have exactly the same opportunity to do it," said the mayor.
If convicted, Haggerty faces 25 years in prison.
Before his current legal trouble, Haggerty had been working on the gubernatorial campaign of Republican candidate and Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino.
Paladino's campaign staffers released a statement Monday, saying they stood by Haggerty and considered him to be loyal and a "man of character."