NY13 Blog; Retaking NY-13 from Rep. Vito Fossella

Following the corruption, ineffectiveness and hypocrisy of Rep. Vito Fossella.

Friday, June 30, 2006

The Corruption of Fossella, week in review

There has been so much coverage of the Corruption of Fossella that I had been focusing on one or two articles or alleged events per day figuring I would be kept busy earning my honorary investigative reporting degree and have articles from now until election. However the Daily News has been so amazing in its daily follow-ups, now on its sixth day, that I just want to put it all out there to try to comprehend the true scope of what we are finding out. As you read through this something to keep in the back of your mind is, does this sound like the average life of a hard working Staten Islander?

Saturday June 24: Jet-set Vito flyin' on campaign cash, NY Daily News

Since 2000, Fossella, who served as Republican chairman of Mayor Bloomberg's reelection effort last year, has spent $53,142 in campaign funds on trips to luxury resorts in Las Vegas, Colorado and Florida, often with his wife and children in tow.

During some of the trips, Fossella spent campaign money on personal items such as ski schools and lift tickets, expenses that are prohibited.

The News investigation also found that Fossella routinely fails to identify the nature of the expenses and sometimes does not disclose who's paying for his trips, as required by law.

This article, the first to shine the light on some very questionable expenses brings to our attention:

Fossella flew home from a trip to Florida on a private jet owned by a donor connected to the Gambino crime family, according to FBI documents.

On the same trip his $5,000 hotel bill was put on the credit card of a consulting firm, later discovered to be Epiphany Productions.

Fossella went to a Jets football playoff game in Pittsburgh paid for with campaign money.

Fossella played golf in Key Biscayne, Florida which was paid for with campaign money.

Fossella spent $1,318 in flight and hotel costs to the Bellagio in Vegas to meet with undisclosed potential campaign donors.

After questioning by the Daily News in advance of publishing their articles, Fossella amended 18 FEC contribution forms.

In the second on three articles published on the 24th, the Daily News runs: S.I. pol's tab picked up in Colo.& Florida

From 2001 through this winter, Fossella spent $25,124 in campaign donations to fly himself and his family to Vail each January.


During the trips, lobbyists joined Fossella and other Republican Congress members at one of the most luxurious hotels in America — The Lodge at Vail.

This trip to Vail it should be noted is the trip he attended with three other Congressmen, most notably Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio. Rep. Ney has been engulfed in the Jack Abramoff probe. One of his former staffers, Neil Volz has plead guilty to conspiracy and violating House rules, and was a previous donor to Rep. Fossella. The House Ethics committee also announced an investigation into potential bribery allegations against Rep. Ney.

After Vail, we are introduced to Turnberry Isle, Fla. Fossella was flown to and from Turnberry on the private jet of Richard Addeo, president of ADCO Electrical. In return he paid, $6,548, the equivalent of a first-class airfare. This despite the fact that the Daily News reports the actual cost of the private jet would have been in the neighborhood of $16,000. I just did a quick Travelocity search and found out I can fly from NYC to Miami for about $218 roundtrip, taxes included. But I guess private jet travel is how most Staten Islanders get around and I am just a little too thrifty.

Back to this private jet. Richard Addeo, the owner of the jet, president of ADCO Electrical and Fossella donor was identified as an associate of the Gambino crime family by FBI documents.

ADCO, which was not implicated in those FBI documents, is a major electrical contractor that has won numerous government contracts and often hires Fossella's engineer father, Vito Sr., records show.

ADCO executives and their wives have contributed $72,000 to Fossella in the last five years.

This of course is not the first time that companies affiliated with Fossella have been criticized for hiring relatives of our favorite member of Congress.

As if the whole jet thing wasn’t bad enough, we find out the Epiphany Productions, the firm that paid for his $5,000+ hotel expenses while at Turnberry Island has been admonished by the FEC for making illegal donations to members of congress including Rep. Fossella.

And then there is Palm Springs.

Fossella failed to disclose who paid for a Feb. 25-28, 2001, trip with his wife and children to a conference outside Palm Springs that cost $2,082.

And how about New York City, where he lives. The New York Stock Exchange paid for a fact-finding trip to send Fossella to New York City, and covered his hotel stay in Manhattan. We guess Rep. Fossella was not aware that there is a ferry between Manhattan and Staten Island and that it is a free trip. That or Fossella realized he could not get anyone to pay for a free ferry ride.

Monday June 26:
He banks on bills, NY Daily News

Days before Christmas, Rep. Vito Fossella gave a little present to some investment bankers - a bill that would hamper tough investigations of Wall Street fraud.

After Fossella filed the bill, former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt called the Roundtable's legislation "atrocious," stating, "I don't think it's Congress' job to micromanage the SEC."

Fossella argues the bill would allow investment bankers to speak freely with the SEC without fear of retribution.

In its 2005 year-end report, the Roundtable singled out Fossella as the sponsor. It did not mention that since 1997, the Roundtable and the CEOs and presidents who sit on its board have given Fossella $65,000 in campaign contributions, campaign finance and corporate records show.

Congressman defends lavish free trips, SI Advance

We find out that Fossella has fired his long time campaign accounting firm of Maltese Potter & LaMarca LLP, even though there were no mistakes made some mistakes were made, but not illegal ones.

Tuesday June 27:
Fossella fesses to 'mistakes', NY Daily News

U.S. Rep. Vito Fossella (R-S.I.) yesterday offered contradictory positions for spending campaign cash on family ski vacations, admitting "mistakes have been made" but insisting he'd "followed the law."

Confronted by the Daily News, Fossella repeated his oxymoronic explanation again and again, wringing his hands and dodging specific questions about his campaign spending habits.

Wednesday June 28:
Fossella the finagler, NY Daily News

That startled deer caught in the headlights there - Gulp! Yeek! - is Staten Island Republican Rep. Vito Fossella, suddenly asked to explain how tens of thousands of campaign dollars, as documented by Daily News reporter Greg B. Smith, appear to have been spent on family vacations and other such personal fritters and whatnots.

State Dems urge probe of Fossella, NY Daily News

The Dems start to come out swinging. The FEC and Attorney General have been contacted by the NY Democratic Party to investigate Fossella’s use of campaign funds.

Manhattan: A Call for an Investigation, NY Times

The NY Times also runs with the story of Assemblyman Herman D. Farrell Jr, chairman of the NY Democratic Party calling for an investigation. The New York Times becomes the third major, and obviously the largest publication to now report on this story initially broke by Greg B. Smith of the Daily News.

Thursday June 29:
It's funny business in Muppet mailings

No longer is the only story Fossella’s mishaps with his potentially illegal use of campaign funds. Rep. Fossella seems to be breaking new House rules.

Rep. Vito Fossella (R-S.I.) violated House rules by using at least three photos in campaign flyers and in free mailings to constituents - including a shot of the congressman with Muppet characters Elmo and Rosita.

The violations are based on House rules that restrict taxpayer money from being used in election campaigns. Fossella’s flyer were printed up and mailed at tax payer expenses and his campaign signed forms declaring those photos used would not be used in his campaign for re-election. Of course those images ended up on his website, and were subsequently removed when his campaign was confronted with the action.

Dem demands probe of congressman, SI Advance

The Staten Island Advance runs with the story of Chairman Farrell calling for an investigation of Fossella.

Friday June 30:
Vito's Muppets mess cost 160G, says Dem rival, NY Daily News

Continuing with the mailing violations story, Stephen Harrison goes on the offensive and really brings the ethics issue back home.

But Stephen Harrison, the Democratic contender for the congressional seat, filed a complaint with the Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards yesterday, arguing four Fossella mailings contain 14 violations.

Harrison pegged the cost of the four mailings at $161,250. "That money would go a long way toward shielding a Humvee or providing body armor for some of troops," he said, calling the misuse of free mailings "a conscious and deliberate decision."

Rep. Vito Fossella, working hard at making sure his family goes on vacation a lot at your expense.

Brooklyn Papers covers the mailing ethics violations.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Corruption of Fossella, part II

Another day another New York Daily News piece. It is wonderful to see some of the media actually covering the only congressional race with a real general election challenge in the city.

Fossella the finagler, via the New York Daily News

Indeed, mistakes having been made, not to mention discovered, Fossella has now quickly amended 18 disclosure forms filed with the Federal Election Commission over the past six years. And he humbly says he will consider reimbursing the campaign about $450 of the more than $53,000 identified by The News as spent on trips to luxury resorts in Las Vegas, Colorado and Florida.

A Ney, Volz and Abramoff connection, 18 amended FEC forms and Fossella is considering returning $450! It is amazing to see a politician so removed from reality that they concede to the public that a $50 lift ticket was a mistake, but going to Vail with endangered Rep. Bob Ney (OH) and a lodge full of lobbyist is akin to working overtime for the people of Staten Island and Brooklyn. There is a reason we have to challenge incumbents even when the races are written off as non competative a year before the election. As the stories grow, and the coverage increases the constituents of the thirteenth suddenly have an interesting question to ponder. Is Fossella really the person they want representing them in Washington? Or do we see a growing buyer's remorse as they realize corruption has tainted even their own.

Congressman defends lavish free trips, via New York Daily News

Ruskin said the problem with lawmakers like Fossella "living the high life is that it gives them a lifestyle that is so different from ordinary people on Staten Island that it becomes easy to forget what it is like to be an ordinary person on Staten Island."

Suddenly this is news worthy of sharing the front page with stories of the perfect slice or burger in the world of Gothamist; Investing Vito and Campaign Finance Elmo. This is starting to become a real problem for the Fossella campaign as this story goes beyond the political pages of newspapers and reaches the everyday world of constituents and average voters.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Corruption of Fossella

Fossella fesses to 'mistakes', via the New York Daily News

Ian Stirton of the Federal Election Commission declined to say whether the agency would look into Fossella's behavior, but said that in general investigators often probe improper, personal use of campaign funds.

Stirton said violators could face penalties of thousands of dollars. He also said the Justice Department could open a criminal probe because putting campaign donations to personal use is a crime.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Following the Money, part IV

Rep. Fossella is suddenly getting some very unwanted attention. The New York Daily News ran three articles on the endangered Republican, linking him to the general culture of corruption plaguing his party. While it is amazing to see first a newspaper other than the Staten Island Advance covering this race and second to find someone other than this blogger looking into the possibility of corrupt money influencing him, both are a welcoming change.

Jet-set Vito flyin' on campaign cash, via the New York Daily News

The News investigation also found that Fossella routinely fails to identify the nature of the expenses and sometimes does not disclose who's paying for his trips, as required by law.


Records show that a June 2002 $1,000-per-ticket fund-raiser for Fossella at a Yankees-Orioles game in Baltimore was hosted by Abramoff and aide Tony Rudy. Both Abramoff and Rudy have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with the FBI.


After the Daily News submitted written questions to Rep. Vito Fossella about the reporting of his campaign spending, the Staten Island Republican amended 18 disclosure forms with the Federal Election Commission, dating back to 2000.

There are two key points to be noted from this article. The NY Daily News is the first, to my knowledge, to publicly report that Jack Ambramoff and Tony Rudy hosted Fossella’s fund raising in 2002. While the NRCC posted this information on their website, Fossella’s campaign has denied this claiming Abramoff was never there and never commenting on Tony Rudy’s presence. The DCCC to their credit have run this story, however some may claim that they are a little partisan.

Second, the last paragraph in the quote goes to show what a little prodding and questioning can do to a campaign. This is why we need to be running a strong opponent who has the ability to publicly question who Fossella really represents and guilt him into giving back chunks of his ill-gotten campaign contributions. Every day that there is a new indictment or new name in a corruption probe I wander on over to the FEC filing reports to see if there is any connection to Rep. Fossella, and occasionally to my surprise I find a Neil Volz. The more money his campaign has to return, the more this is news worthy and will be capturing local headlines. The question is how much corruption is going to be exposed by November, and how much time will there be to find the connection back to Rep. Fossella?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Following the Money, Part III

Rep. Fossella's campaign is attacking the DCCC for suggesting he should return money he took from Rep. Jerry Lewis's PAC. The Staten Island Advance once again covers the story;

Now that Lewis has "become the latest high-ranking Republican to get caught in the web of investigation, it's time for all Republicans ... to do the right thing and return his dirty campaign money," DCCC spokesman Bill Burton said in a recent statement.


"I am publicly calling on the DCCC to return this scandal-tarred money," said Fossella. "If they fail to act, it will prove once again what a bunch of hypocrites they are."

DCCC spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg accused Fossella of trying to divert attention from Lewis' largess. "We are not the ones who are up for re-election," she said. "This is a matter between the congressman and his constituents."

Fossella has taken $6,000 from Rep. Lewis's PAC Future Leaders. Here is the FEC report for a $5,000 contribution last year.

Fossella has thus far taken money from Neil Volz who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to corrupt public officials. He was forced to donate all of that.

Fossella has also taken $10,000 from the recently resigned Rep. Tom Delay's PAC, ARMPAC. DeLay is currently under indictment in Texas for money laundering. He has yet to give back any of that money.

Fossella has also taken $7,000 from Speaker of the House Rep. Hastert who is engulfed in controversy because he "earmarked $207 million for an Illinois highway project to earn himself and his wife nearly $2 million in profits on nearby land." Fossella has yet to give back any of that money.

Fossella has also yet to return any money he raised during an event that the RNCC promoted by inviting donors to "Join Vito Fossella ... with Tony Rudy and Jack Abramoff for a baseball game." Tony Rudy has plead guilty to conspiracy and Jack Abramoff has also plead guilty to a total of five criminal felony counts in two different Federal cases.

Finally, Fossella received a trip to Vail Colorado paid for lobbyists so that him and three other Republican representatives, most notably Rep. Bob Ney who most recently has topped likely list of members of Congress to be brought down by the Abramoff case. Fossella has yet to repay the costs associated with this trip.

Remember the DCCC is not the congressional representative for the thirteenth district of New York. Fossella can try to change the subject but that does not explain the amount of dirty money he has received and is refusing to give back.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Homeland Security Funding

New York City's Homeland Security funding has been slashed by about $83 million from what the city received the previous year. From the Staten Island Advance we get this exchange between Fossella and Harrison's campaigns:

"Fossella wrote to Bush last week asking him to intervene on behalf of the city after Chertoff announced the decision to slash its counterterrorism allocation from last year's $207 million to $124 million. Among other rationales, the Department of Homeland Security offered the startling contention that New York lacks significant monuments.

Fossella said yesterday that he is satisfied with the White House's response to date. But chances of recouping the slashed funding were pooh-poohed by his Democratic opponent in the upcoming election, Brooklyn attorney Stephen Harrison.

"When you have a Congress controlled by Republicans and a White House controlled by Republicans, you are not going to see the 40 percent cut in funding for the city restored," said Harrison.

Harrison does well in explaining that the funding cuts were partisan and the Republican party is intentionally withholding funds from this very Democratic region. It is a good point to drive home because it shows you how little ability Fossella has in his party. I would suggest that security and thus security funding is possibly the most important issue for a representative from New York City, and even New York state. We see Reps. Sweeney and King doing as much for our funding as Fossella and one is from upstate and the other Long Island. It would be one thing if Congress were to withhold transportation funding that theoretically would be attached to the much hyped NASCAR track. But to play with our security at the expense of one of their own is baffling. It is not as if Fossella doesn't get along with Speaker of the House, Rep. Hastert.

What Harrison doesn't bring up that I find interesting is that Rep. Fossella, a five term congressman, and the only Republican member of Congress from New York City has so little influence and power in his position that this was able to happen. It wasn't even as if he was able to just maintain last year's amounts instead of bringing home more money, he wasn't even able keep those levels. If this is what happens when he is part of the majority party what should his constituents expect when after the fall elections he becomes part of the minority party?