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Defense: No crime in case tied to Bloomberg

A political operative accused of cheating Mayor Michael Bloomberg out of $1.1 million slapped together a slipshod budget for the billionaire's campaign because he believed no one cared about the details in a win-at-all-costs environment fostered by mayoral insiders desperate to hold on to power, his lawyer said yesterday.

In closing arguments, Dennis Vacco said his client, John Haggerty, was asked to provide the campaign with a loose estimate of costs for a poll-watching operation long after the mayor's 2009 re-election campaign had committed to the plan. "He knew they weren't going to rely on this budget," the defense attorney told jurors in Manhattan Supreme Court. "Just like a typical government operative . . . he just slapped anything together."

Prosecutors argue that the Bloomberg campaign relied on the budget when it made a donation to the state Independence Party to finance the poll-watching effort. Haggerty is accused of mounting only a meager operation costing $32,000, then pocketing most of the mayor's donation to buy a house.

"Mr. Haggerty is a con man," Assistant District Attorney Eric Seidel told jurors in his closing arguments yesterday.

Vacco said Haggerty's $750,000 income for his work as a consultant to the Independence Party on the so-called ballot security effort was lucrative but legitimate.

"It's a lot of money, but it wasn't a crime," he said.

The budget provided by Haggerty days before the election has become a key point in the case.

In it, Haggerty outlined plans to pay more than 1,300 poll watchers as well as plans for hotel rooms, office space and more. Witnesses have testified that they saw elements of a poll-watching operation in place, but of the four watchers who took the stand, none was paid.

In the prosecution's closing arguments, Seidel showed jurors an email sent by Haggerty when a New York Post reporter started asking questions months after the election.

"Each poll-watcher received $500 for the 16-hour (plus) day," he wrote, claiming that only $100,000 or so remained in the account after the operation's expenses.

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