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September 18, 2013

Anatomy Of A Shakedown : Report Chronicles Events Of Plover Gate



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"Call me the frigging mailman . . . would you be willing to reach out for a contribution? . . . he and his wife can each do five large . . ."

No, that wasn't Tony Soprano asking Big Pussy to be his bagman. It was Congressman Tim Bishop stating he would "deliver" a favor for a constituent. Whether the favor and the donation are "quid pro quo" is at the heart of two investigations into the matter.

A three-month investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) into a complaint about the matter concluded, indeed, a line was crossed. "There is a substantial reason to believe that a violation of House rules, standards of conduct and federal law occurred."

What happens next is in the hands of the House Committee on Ethics, which decided last week to continue to gather information about the complaint. Bishop hired a high-profile international law firm that urged the Committee On Ethics to close the inquiry – to no avail.

In a separate matter, as reported exclusively by The Independent, the FBI investigated the same allegations against Bishop. A spokeswoman in the New York Office FBI office said "We cannot confirm or deny investigations."

The U.S. Attorney General's Office is also conducting an investigation, according to published reports.

After conducting interviews with all the parties the OCE laid out its evidence in a 177-page report that included numerous emails, some of which have been published in The Independent previously.

The OCE also details for the first time what appears to be an erroneous and illegal posting on Bishop's campaign financial disclosure forms dated June 26, 2012.

On May 21, 2012 at 1:50 Eric Semler emailed Robert F.X. Sillerman, his business associate. Sillerman is a huge donor to Bishop, a family friend for three decades, and considered Bishop's "rabbi" and moneyman in Washington D.C. circles. Semler was to have a fireworks display at his Sagaponack oceanfront house on May 26 but was stymied by the red tape. He asked Sillerman to intervene with Bishop on his behalf.

A few minutes later Sillerman emailed Bishop, who forwarded the email to his daughter Molly, a fundraiser for her father. Sillerman then followed up with Semler to make sure he was on board with the donations. Molly Bishop then emailed Semler and asked if he and his wife could give $5000 to the Congressman's reelection campaign.

When Politico first broke the story and published many of the emails, Bishop strongly urged Semler to talk to the press and try to short circuit the story. "You can kill this story right now by setting the record straight - if not, this story will not go away, it will be the subject of press articles, mail hit pieces . . ." Semler hesitated, but finally did – but he made a crucial mistake: he said he didn't know Bishop was running for reelection, when numerous pieces of correspondence contradicted him.

After Bishop's staff made a Herculean effort to secure the fireworks permit, the matter of collecting the cash was at hand.

Bishop, under oath, stated Semler contributed to his congressional campaign committee on June 26, 2012. Bishop said, 'He and his campaign staff were monitoring campaign activity closely,' according to the report.

Molly Bishop told the OCE that she thought the constituent and his wife made a joint contribution of $5000 total, and that's how she listed it on legal filings dated June 26 – two $2500 donations, one from Selmer and one from his wife, Tracy. Molly Bishop recalled that the contribution was submitted online. But according to the OCE, none of that actually happened, and Semler said as much under oath.

Instead a $5000 contribution from TCS Capital Management LLC, was made on July 9, 2012 via credit card. Since Semler owns 100 percent of the company, the law sets the limit for such a contribution at $2500. Someone in the Bishop camp – possibly Molly Bishop – made a false entry dated June 26 to cover-up the overpayment.

Bishop, when queried about the discrepancy and false campaign filing, refused to cooperate further, the OCE report states. The report recommends that the House committee use subpoena powers to make Bishop answer questions about the apparently false filings. The OCE also recommends Sillerman be subpoenaed — he refused to cooperate altogether.

The OCE reports that the so-called confidential emails published in Politico and later The Independent were leaked to Diana Weir, the campaign manager of Randy Altschuler, who was running against Bishop. It was presumed Weir leaked the emails to the press. It should be noted The Independent did not receive the emails from Weir or anyone involved in the Altschuler campaign.

As reported previously, at no time did Bishop express concern for a nearby Piping Plover nest -- its presence was the main reason authorities did not want fireworks nearby. The OCE produced an email from Sillerman to Bishop and copied to Semler dated May 21, 2012 that is particularly telling:

"Fucking plovers. Let's eat them all," it read.

Five minutes after Bishop asked Sillerman to ask the Semlers for "5 large" each on May 22 Sillerman emailed Eric Semler: "So I guess you and your wife each want to donate 5K to Tim Bishop, right?" it read.

Minutes later he wrote to Bishop: "He will donate 5K each. Have Molly contact him."

Bishop replied, "Maybe we should be calling you the mailman. Thanks Bob!"

Under oath, Bishop said the mailman refers to "the mailman always delivers."

The euphoria felt in the Bishop camp as polls showed him surging to a lead quickly subsided in August 2012 quickly when John Breshnahan, a reporter for Politico, emailed the Bishop camp: he was going public with what was perceived as a shakedown: Semler's cash in return for help in getting the fireworks permit.

Bishop and his aides hurried into spin control mode. It was decided the company line would be that Semler asked for a favor, and later, after Bishop accommodated him, Semler was asked for a contribution. In reality, of course, Molly Bishop contacted Semler before the fireworks permit was obtained. At one point one Bishop aide suggests refunding the money to Semler – Bishop later gave the $5000 to charities.

A half-dozen Bishop insiders worked on a statement to minimize the negative impact of the Politico story: it concluded, "Mr. Semler chose to contribute to Congressman Bishop's election campaign over a month after his request was resolved. Why Mr. Semler chose to is a fact known only to him."

But Oliver Longwell, Bishop's publicity director, had his doubts. In an email to Molly Bishop and others he wrote: " . . . this is so flimsy."

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