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Ethics panel defers to Justice in Rep. Grimm probe

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Ethics Committee is again deferring an investigation into Rep. Michael Grimm, a former FBI agent, for possible campaign finance violations — leaving the matter in the hands of the Justice Department, which is conducting a criminal probe.

The committee said Tuesday the New York Republican remains under investigation by the Justice Department for potentially violating campaign finance laws by soliciting and accepting prohibited contributions from foreign donors, actions that may have caused false information to be included in campaign finance reports.

One focus of the investigation is whether Grimm improperly offered to help Ofer Biton, an Israeli citizen, obtain a green card. Biton has close ties to Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, an Israeli Rabbi whose wealthy, zealous followers donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Grimm's 2010 campaign.

"The letter makes it clear that no determination of any wrongdoing whatsoever has been made," said Grimm spokeswoman Carol Danko. "The baseless allegations lodged against the Congressman remain without merit — politically motivated in their creation only to sully his reputation in an effort to destroy his political career."

Danko noted that the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, which referred the Grimm case to the official ethics panel last year, recommended that the complaint be dismissed because it couldn't be established that ethics violations occurred after Grimm took office in 2011. The OCE is run by a board that doesn't include members of Congress and can only make recommendations to the ethics committee.

Biton pleaded guilty in August to a federal immigration fraud charge. He lied about his finances when he applied in 2010 for a special visa available to foreigners who invest $500,000 or more in a U.S. business.

The committee says it will announce once a year whether it will continue to defer its investigation.

Grimm, whose district covers Brooklyn and Staten Island, won his initial 2010 campaign with 51 percent of the vote. He was re-elected last year with 53 percent.

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