Thuggery on Capitol Hill? Say it ain’t so.
Representative Michael Grimm, R-New York, will personally break you if you ask about allegations of campaign finance misconduct. Michael Scotto, political reporter of the New York cable news channel NY1, learned this the hard way on the night of President Obama’s State of the Union speech.
“You ever do that to me again, I'll throw you off this f***ing balcony,” Grimm said, a transcript of the incident at the Capitol makes clear. "No, no, you're not man enough. You're not man enough. I'll break you in half. Like a boy."
A look back at Grimm’s colorful history shows that the shocking incident was pretty characteristic of the scandal-prone, two-term congressman from Staten Island. The former FBI agent-turned-representative is no stranger to making violent threats, attracting rumors of sex in a restaurant bathroom, or being linked to suspect business dealings.
Scotto’s error was to try to ask Grimm about a campaign finance investigation involving allegations that, to get around individual donation limits, Grimm’s campaign used straw donors to funnel money to Grimm through other campaigns. Diana Durand, a Grimm fundraiser and former Grimm girlfriend, was arrested by the FBI last week on charges of funneling more than $10,000 to Grimm's campaign through straw donors -- just part of a years-long investigation into the congressman's campaign finance operation by federal authorities.
Beyond the current investigation, Grimm’s run-ins with the law -- and decency -- go back to the 1990s. Most recently, observers of Grimm at a wine bar in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn last fall claim the congressman and a woman went to the bathroom together for 17 minutes, where they ostensibly had sex. “I think it was pretty f***ing obvious what was going on in there," a source told the New York Post. Grimm denies anything untoward happened.
Grimm is such a fascinating character that he has been given the royal profile treatment from both the New York Times and the New Yorker. The Times’s 2012 article focused on Grimm’s history of shady business dealings. Between serving in the U.S. Marines and joining the FBI as an undercover agent, Grimm worked for a small Wall Street firm, Whale Securities, that ran into problems with regulators for gouging customers. In one of several business ventures after leaving the FBI, Grimm opened Healthalicious, a Manhattan restaurant that "has been accused in a lawsuit of cheating its workers and fined by the state for failing to carry workers’ compensation.”
But Grimm’s most colorful business adventures are generally tied to his friend Carlos Laquis, a former FBI agent who is also a convicted felon. Grimm worked with Laquis in Texas when his friend was already under indictment, started a business with Laquis’s wife when Laquis was in prison, then hired Laquis to work on a third business as soon as he was paroled.
When the New Yorker dug into Grimm as part of a story on FBI informants, it uncovered an incident in July 1999 in which Grimm allegedly brandished a gun at a nightclub and abused his authority as an FBI officer.
Gordon Williams, a now-retired NYPD officer, recounted the incident that took place while he was off duty at Caribbean Tropics, a West Indian-themed club in Queens, New York. Grimm arrived at the club around midnight with a woman of Caribbean descent whose estranged husband was also at the club and Grimm and the husband exchanged words. Williams led Grimm away, at which point Grimm allegedly said to him, “Thanks a lot, man. He don’t know who he’s f***ing with,” and “I’ll f***in’ make him disappear where nobody will find him.” Grimm denies saying such things.
The story doesn’t end there. According to the account:
Around 2:30 a.m., there was a commotion on the dance floor. According to Williams, somebody was shouting, “He’s got a gun!” Following a crowd into the club’s garage, Williams discovered that Grimm and the husband had returned, and Grimm was holding a weapon. Grimm was “carrying on like a madman,” Williams said. “He’s screaming, ‘I’m gonna f***in’ kill him.’ So I said to him, ‘Who are you?’ He put the gun back in his waist and said, ‘I’m a f***ing F.B.I. agent, ain’t nobody gonna threaten me.’ ”
Grimm returned to the club a third time that night, at which point, in his search for the husband, he told everyone that the FBI was in charge, to line up against the wall and instructed “all the white people to get out of here.”
Williams filed charges against Grimm, but ultimately dropped the suit.
Grimm shared a very different series of events from that night. He said he had been jumped by the husband and his friends, that he had then asked Williams to call 911 but that he had refused, and that he had then flagged down an NYPD patrol car and brought the police to the scene. He insisted that the NYPD and the Department of Justice had cleared him of any wrongdoing in the incident.
Back to the incident on Tuesday night, at first Grimm showed no remorse for threatening to throw a reporter off a balcony of the U.S. Capitol. “I verbally took the reporter to task and told him off, because I expect a certain level of professionalism and respect, especially when I go out of my way to do that reporter a favor,” he said in a statement. “I doubt that I am the first member of Congress to tell off a reporter, and I am sure I won’t be the last.”
In the clear light of Wednesday, however, he offered a heartfelt apology to Scotto and said the two would have lunch soon.