U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman defended himself vigorously Monday after a report stated he may have violated House ethics rules by hosting a meeting between the Israeli government and a California defense contractor in which he invested.
While arguing that he did nothing improper, Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights) acknowledged arranging the meeting, which he said took place "about eight years ago," between Carlsbad, Calif.-based Xenonics Inc. and Israeli officials. In a statement, Ackerman said he believed the company could "contribute to Israel's national defense, and could save Israeli lives as it was already being used to save American lives in Afghanistan."
The exact date of the meeting is relevant because Ackerman in 2002 borrowed $12,000 from Selig Zises, a friend and top Xenonics stockholder, and used the money to buy Xenonics stock, according to Ackerman's financial reports. Ackerman sold the stock at an $85,000 profit, Newsday reported in 2006.
House ethics rules forbid members from promoting commercial enterprises with congressional resources.
Xenonics never sold any equipment to Israel's government. Ackerman said his actions were not improper.
"I did no more than arrange an introduction so the parties could decide on the merits whether the product fit their needs and sale capabilities," he said in the statement. "I did nothing else in this matter - not another meeting, not another conversation, not seeking an earmark, not helping with any grant. Ever."
A Daily News story Monday claimed Ackerman may have run afoul of House ethics rules. The congressman blasted the paper's report.
The Daily News also said Ackerman put no money down on the 2002 loan, which it said had no written payback date, which could also be a violation of House rules.
Ackerman said the loan "was the subject of a written note."
"No matter how the Daily News and political opponents may try to spin these facts, the facts are that I had a proper loan and investment that was always properly disclosed and I did nothing to promote Xenonics that I have not done for dozens of other companies," he said.
Xenonics founder Alan Magerman did not return phone calls Monday. Zises could not be reached.