Rep. Tim Bishop: FBI investigated claims in ethics case

Congressman Tim Bishop answered questions about the future

Congressman Tim Bishop answered questions about the future of Plum Island. Environmentalist and local and federal officials met at Poquatuck Hall in Orient to discuss plans to save Plum Island. (April 29, 2013) (Credit: Randee Daddona)

WASHINGTON -- The FBI investigated allegations that Rep. Tim Bishop asked for a donation from a Sagaponack constituent he was helping in 2012 with fireworks permits, Bishop's office said Thursday.

The FBI and the office of U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch in Brooklyn earlier this year collected information from Bishop's campaign office and interviewed a Southampton Town trustee and its fire marshal.

No charges have been filed. The U.S. attorney's office and the FBI refused to confirm or deny the investigation, and it is not clear whether the Justice Department probe is still active.

In a statement Thursday, Bishop said his "campaign has cooperated fully with requests for information from the U.S. Attorney's Office. Since providing that information several months ago, we have not been contacted again" by that office.

The House Ethics Committee said it is reviewing the complaint against Bishop (D-Southampton) after an Office of Congressional Ethics report released Wednesday recommended that it do so. The committee stopped short of opening its own investigation.

But the Ethics Committee did not postpone its review into Bishop to allow a law enforcement investigation go forward, as it did in two other recent ethics complaints.

That does not necessarily mean the Justice Department investigation is over, said Meredith McGehee, policy director of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center and an expert on ethics cases.

Southampton trustee Fred Havemayer, who helped arrange the fireworks permits, and Southampton Fire Marshal Cheryl Kraft, who formally issued the permits, said the FBI had interviewed them in January or February of this year.

"As far as I know, it's still an open investigation, so I can't really comment on it," Kraft said.

The investigations began with a complaint filed in 2012 by Smithtown Councilman Robert Creighton, who backed Bishop's Republican challenger, Randy Altschuler, in the 1st District congressional race that year.

It charges that Bishop unethically and illegally sought a quid pro quo when he asked for a campaign donation from constituent Eric Semler while helping Semler get a permit for a fireworks display for his son's bar mitzvah on May 26, 2012.

Bishop denies he did anything improper or illegal.

The ethics office in its report found "a substantial reason" to believe Bishop may have violated rules and the law.

The ethics office also said Bishop may have violated the law by misreporting the source and timing of Semler's $5,000 donation, and that he possibly accepted more than the legal limit.

The ethics office recommended the Ethics Committee issue subpoenas to Bishop for records on Semler's donation that he withheld, and to Bishop fundraiser Robert Sillerman, who refused to cooperate at all.

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