BY DOMENICK RAFTER
A former top Republican official who served time in prison for laundering $750,000 from former Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s reelection campaign is being accused of writing checks for a Republican committee in his native Forest Hills since at least 2009, and of volunteering for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign despite allegedly being barred from working in politics as part of his parole agreement.
But those close to John Haggerty, the individual in question, say the accusations are lingering bitterness from a years-long civil war in the Queens Republican Party.
According to state Board of Elections documentation, Haggerty, who was released on parole last May after serving more than a year in prison, is listed as Treasurer for the 28th Assembly District Republican Committee. BOE documents show he was first elected Treasurer in 2009, the year he laundered $750,000 from then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s 2009 campaign, using the funds to purchase his childhood home in Forest Hills.
Surprisingly, the only benefactor of the committee was Bloomberg himself, who gave $150,000 to the committee in December 2009, not long after Haggerty laundered the $750,000 from the mayor’s campaign.
“I don’t know who could have been signing the checks if [John] was in prison,” one Republican official said.
As treasurer, John Haggerty would be responsible for filing reports and signing the checks and documents showing that the committee spent more than $7,000 in 2013, mostly on office costs and restaurant bills for meetings. After serving three months immediately after his conviction in 2011, Haggerty was forced to return to prison in March 2013 after his appeals were denied and served several months before being released again. He went back to prison in July 2014 and was paroled last May.
While John Haggerty was listed as treasurer in 2009 and in current filings, it is not known if he was treasurer during the time in which he was in prison. Public documents do not list a treasurer’s name for past years, and several sources close to Haggerty claim he was not treasurer during the time he was incarcerated and was reinstated when he was released.
Haggerty’s brother, Bart Haggerty, is a state committeeman – the Republican term for district leader – in the 28th Assembly District and a deputy clerk at the New York City Board of Elections’ Queens office. Bart Haggerty is also a former staffer for Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park).
A Committee Or A Slush Fund?
A number of Republicans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, expressed outrage at what they perceived as the committee’s failure, or lack of trying, to develop the party in the 28th Assembly District, which includes Forest Hills, Rego Park and Middle Village.
Many of the items in the financial documents including bills from restaurants for “meetings.” They include two meetings held in Cooperstown – more than 100 miles away from Queens – in February 2014 billed at more than $123. Several months later, $500 was spent on a dinner journal ad for the Otsego County Republican Committee.
Cooperstown is in Otsego County.
Items described as “meetings,” include bills at restaurants outside the district, such as Bistro Le Steak in and Stone Rose Lounge in Manhattan, both in May 2011, for $132 and $170 respectively.
“What has this committee done to help build the Republican Party in the 28th Assembly District?” one prominent Republican asked, noting the district has not fielded a Republican candidate for State Assembly since 2010. “It’s job is to build the Republican Party in the district and it’s not doing that.”
The allegation is that the committee is a slush fund for the personal activities of the Haggertys.
Neither John nor Bart Haggerty could be reached for comment, but a source close to them with knowledge of the committee says the meetings that were held were focused on Republican Party activities.
“The committee meets regularly and focuses on candidate recruitment and get out the vote operations in the district during big elections,” the source said. “There’s no requirement that they have to meet in the district.”
The source pointed out that several items included food for volunteers and meetings during the height of the 2012 and 2014 statewide Republican primaries and general elections.
“The committee isn’t just helping Republicans in the district, it helps Republicans all across Queens and the state,” the source added.
But a Republican critic of the committee called that assertion “ridiculous.”
Another source close to the Haggerty brothers blamed the rumors on ill-feelings stemming from the six-year long civil war between rival factions in the Queens Republican Party.
“This is a hit from folks still bitter over the fact that Bob Turner is now chairman of the party,” one prominent Queens Republican said.
From 2009 through 2015, the Republican Party in Queens was divided into two warring factions that culminated in two different men claiming leadership of the party at two different meetings in 2013. The division, which pitted a faction of the party, mainly supported by Northern and Eastern Queens Republicans led by former chairman Phil Ragusa, against a rival group led by former Middle Village Councilman Tom Ognibene, that was backed mainly by Southern and Western Queens Republicans. In 2013, two party meetings were held – one in Whitestone and one in Richmond Hill – and both Ragusa and Ognibene filed with the state calling himself chairman of the party. The state later sided with Ragusa, who died of leukemia in June 2014 while still serving as party chairman. Ognibene passed away in October 2015.
The Haggertys were allies of the Ognibene wing, along with many others from South and West Queens, including Ulrich.
Last May, both factions of the party united to elect former U.S. Rep. Bob Turner as chairman of the party, theoretically ending the dispute.
However, some who were allied with Ragusa felt the Ognibene wing took advantage of their power vacuum left by the former’s death, and the weakened state of the party after the 2013 elections, to force Turner into the chairmanship.
Several of the sources accusing Haggerty of fraud were allied with the Ragusa wing of the party during that battle.
Haggerty Active Again
Lately, John Haggerty has been volunteering for Trump’s presidential campaign in this election cycle. According to several Republican sources, he was spotted among a group of protestors marching against Republican candidate Ted Cruz outside the Texas Senator’s campaign office in Nassau County, and he appeared before a meeting of the Rockaway Republicans recently representing the Trump campaign.
Crain’s New York Business listed Haggerty as one of “the brains” of the Trump operation in New York in an April 11th article, along side former GOP gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino and U.S. Rep Chris Collins of Erie County.
Earlier this year, Haggerty’s name was on a card attached to a bouquet of flowers sent to Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island), a supporter of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s failed Presidential bid, “mourning the death” of his campaign.
Allies of Haggerty are calling the attacks unfair.
“John is out of prison and trying to rebuild his life,” said one Republican, who called Haggerty a friend.
Another ally of Haggerty said his volunteering for Trump is not violating his parole.
“It’s ridiculous, he isn’t working for the campaign,” the source said. “He’s just a supporter – one that Trump’s campaign seems to think is pretty valuable.”