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Mayor takes stand in trial of John Haggerty on theft

In this courtroom sketch, Mayor Michael Bloomberg (c.) takes the stand in Manhattan Supreme Court as a witness against former campaign aide John Haggerty, who is accused of stealing $1.1 million of the mayor's money. AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams
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Mayor Michael Bloomberg was grilled Monday by a defense attorney in the $1.1 million theft case against a former campaign aide and Queens Republican political operative, John Haggerty.

The mayor gave the $1.1 million to the Independence Party in 2009 to be used by Haggerty for poll watching during the election.

Bloomberg testified Monday in Manhattan Supreme Court that he only authorized the money for a ballot security operation when he sought a third term in 2009, not to enable Haggerty to buy out his brother’s share in their father’s Forest Hills home as prosecutors claim.

About $750,000 of the $1.1 million reached Haggerty through a donation Bloomberg made to the state Independence Party’s housekeeping account that the mayor said was supposed to be used for hiring poll watchers.

Haggerty’s lawyers claimed Bloomberg, who was given immunity when he testified before a grand jury in the case, had the Independence Party contract out the ballot security operation instead of his own campaign so he he could skirt campaign finance laws and not have the expenditure show up on his campaign’s finance data.

Haggerty faces up to 44 years in prison if convicted on charges of grand larceny, money laundering and falsifying business records.

The mayor received treatment usually reserved for criminal defendants or judges as his car had access to the judge’s entrance to Manhattan Supreme Court, which let him dodge photographers hoping to snap a shot of Bloomberg arriving into court.

A phalanx of television cameras and still photographers camped outside the packed courtroom waiting for a chance to get a glimpse of Bloomberg.

Haggerty, who was an unpaid volunteer during the mayor’s campaigns in 2005 and 2009, is charged with billing Bloomberg’s campaign for $1.1 million for ballot security and then failing to deliver, allegedly putting only $35,000 into the operation.

Bloomberg backed up the prosecution’s claims during a more than two-hour session on the witness stand.

Haggerty “promised things he did not do,” the mayor told one of Haggerty’s defense attorneys, Raymond Castello.

In a move apparently designed to get a rise out of Bloomberg, Castello responded, “Isn’t that what you repeatedly did at Salomon Brothers?,” referring to the mayor’s time at the investment house.

“I have no idea,” the mayor with a look of disbelief.

Haggerty’s lawyers are arguing that the $1.1 million Bloomberg gave to the Independence Party constituted a gift, which means the mayor had no control over how the money was spent.

The mayor said the Independence Party was to pay a company set up by Haggerty for the ballot security operation.

Bloomberg testified that he gave the Independence Party the money in part to support candidates on that line, but when Castello asked the mayor if he knew any candidates who had that party’s line, he said he could not remember.

The mayor also said he did not enter into a written contract for the services Haggerty was entrusted to carry out on behalf of the campaign.

“Their handshake is worth more to me than a piece of paper,” he testified.

Haggerty’s ex-mistress and Bloomberg campaign aide Fiona Reid was expected to take the witness stand Tuesday.

Prosecutors allege Haggerty had an affair with Reid, who approved his ballot security expenditures, as part of his scheme to steal the mayor’s money.

Haggerty’s lawyers are attempting to prevent Reid from taking the stand.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Updated 2:24 pm, October 6, 2011
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