NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg withstood more than two hours of aggressive questioning on Monday in the trial of a Republican political consultant charged with stealing more than $1 million from the mayor’s 2009 re-election campaign.
The billionaire mayor, wearing a navy suit, red tie and an American flag pin, took the witness stand in a Manhattan criminal courtroom packed with reporters and observers.
He said he donated $1.2 million to the Independence Party to fund a ballot-security operation on Election Day promised to him by the consultant, John Haggerty. Prosecutors have accused Haggerty of selling the service, but spending most of the money on a house instead.
Bloomberg testified Haggerty made the arrangements to monitor polling places through the mayor’s staff.
“We gave it with a purpose,” he said. “The purpose was to provide ballot security. It was not a general donation.”
Defense lawyer Raymond Costello peppered Bloomberg with questions about the contribution, suggesting that the decision to funnel the money through a political party represented a violation of campaign finance law.
“Do you realize that your campaign did not file any of the $1.2 million as a campaign expenditure?” Costello asked.
The mayor countered that the money was intended to help all Independence Party candidates, not just his own candidacy, and therefore did not need to be disclosed by his campaign.
“I do not view it as a campaign expenditure, because it was not for me, it was for all of the candidates of the Independence Party,” he said.
Bloomberg said he paid for similar operations in his 2001 and 2005 mayoral campaigns through the Republican Party. Haggerty was responsible for the 2005 operation.
The mayor, often testy with what he considers frivolous questions from reporters, showed only flashes of impatience during his testimony. His most frequent response was that he could not recall many details of the campaign in 2009, saying he left most of the decision-making to his advisers.
The defense argued that once Bloomberg gave his money to the Independence Party, he could not dictate how it was spent.
Haggerty is charged with grand larceny, money laundering and falsifying business records. The larceny charge carries a possible term of 25 years in prison.
Editing by Doina Chiacu