Rabbi Pinto Aide Ofer Biton Arrested in NY Over Fraud
Former aide to rabbi Yosef Pinto who helped raise thousands for Republican congressional candidate suspected of lying in visa application
An Israeli who helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a Republican congressional candidate during his successful 2010 campaign has been arrested in New York on immigration fraud charges.
Businessman Ofer Biton was arraigned Friday at a federal court in Brooklyn on charges that he lied about his finances when he applied two years ago for a special visa available to foreigners who invest $500,000 or more in a US business.
His lawyer, Jeffrey Udell, declined to comment.
The arrest comes amid an ongoing FBI probe of money donated to US Rep. Michael Grimm's campaign by followers of an Israeli rabbi, Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto.
Biton was formerly a top aide to Pinto, who also has a headquarters and residence in New York. During Grimm's 2010 run, Biton acted as the chief liaison between the New York City Republican and potential donors in Pinto's congregation.
Some donors have since said that they broke campaign finance law by donating more money than allowed, or by funneling donations from foreigners who aren't legally allowed to give to US candidates.
The criminal complaint against Biton, which was unsealed Friday, doesn't mention his campaign activities.
An FBI agent accused Biton in the complaint of lying on his immigration application about the source of money he was investing in an attempt to get a US visa for foreign entrepreneurs.
The application said the bulk of the money, $400,000, was a personal loan from a family friend. But the FBI said it had witnesses and bank records showing that the money actually came from a "co-conspirator," not named in the complaint, who funneled the money through an accomplice to hide where it came from.
By concealing the true source of the money, the FBI said, Biton had violated a part of the visa process requiring honest disclosure of the origins of the investment money.
Grimm, a Staten Island Republican, has acknowledged working with Biton to collect money from American members of Pinto's congregation, but he has repeatedly denied knowledge of any improper donations, or any other illegal activity involving Biton or other members of Pinto's congregation.
Grimm's lawyer, William McGinley, did not immediately respond to inquiries about Biton's arrest on Saturday. He has told reporters previously that he is confident the Justice Department's investigation into the campaign's activities would uncover no wrongdoing.
Pinto and top people in his organization have also publicly accused Biton of embezzling money from the congregation. He has denied those allegations, and there was no mention of them in the criminal complaint unsealed Friday.