NYC comptroller's lawyer quits amid donor probe

NEW YORK Thu Nov 17, 2011 3:35pm EST

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A prominent lawyer tapped by New York City Comptroller John Liu to review questions about Liu's fund-raising abruptly quit the probe on Thursday, a potential setback to the comptroller's ambitions to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Liu, a Democrat, was widely considered a top contender to replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the 2013 election until Wednesday, when federal prosecutors charged one of his campaign donors with wire fraud and conspiracy for evading campaign finance rules.

The prosecutors said the fund-raiser used "straw donors" to funnel cash to a candidate they did not identify, but Liu confirmed the donor was one of his supporters.

Robert Abrams, a former New York state attorney general, quit on Thursday, in a letter to lawyers for the comptroller and his campaign committee.

Liu had recently hired Abrams to conduct an in-depth investigation of his campaign's fund-raising efforts after articles in The New York Times revealed possible wrongdoing.

The reason he quit, Abrams said, was that Liu's lawyer had asked him to suspend his work until the federal probe ended.

"Your request that I suspend my work on this matter is untenable, as it compromises my independence, and my ability to do a thorough and effective job," Abrams wrote, adding the federal government had not made that request.

Abrams was not immediately available for comment.

Paul Schechtman, a lawyer who represents the city comptroller, told Reuters: "I remain surprised that Mr. Abrams does not appreciate that it's in no one's interest, including his own, to conduct two simultaneous investigations."

LOST IN TRANSLATION?

Liu, who was born in Taiwan, tapped the Chinese-American community in New York City for campaign donations.

Abrams' desire to continue his probe, which included interviews of 30 people in English, Mandarin and Cantonese, puzzled legal experts. The former attorney general was being paid more than $900 an hour, a source said.

Abrams' investigation would not have had the benefit of any additional information the federal prosecutors uncovered, such as review of an undercover agent's taped conversations with Liu's fund-raiser.

Martin Connor, the lawyer for Friends of John Liu, the campaign committee, said: "It really doesn't make sense to have two investigations to be going on at once, and it's terribly expensive, and I think the federal government has more than enough resources to get all the information that's needed and they have subpoena power, and Mr. Abrams doesn't."

(Reporting by Joan Gralla; Editing by Jan Paschal)

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