State Sen. George Latimer told reporters during a Friday news conference that Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino is being investigated for accepting a bribe as part of a wider federal corruption probe involving New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio.
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Latimer, a Democrat, is challenging Republican incumbent Astorino in the Nov. 7 election. Latimer said he did not know why the U.S. Justice Department investigation of De Blasio, Astorino and others has ramped up 11 days before their Nov. 7 election, but said the allegations of criminal activity are "very serious."
Latimer of Rye declined to answer reporters' questions about his personal life and other recent media reports about unpaid property taxes and parking tickets, calling it "a distraction from the important issues of the campaign."
Latimer said he has asked Astorino and his re-election campaign to produce receipts for a gold Rolex watch and any other gifts provided to him by political campaign donor Jona Rechnitz,
"Now that we've seen them, they are horrible,'' Latimer said of details released in testimony from Rechnitz on Thursday.
Astorino campaign spokesman Bill O'Reilly called Latimer's claims "total contrived nonsense."
Latimer called on Astorino to release "full credit card receipts for gifts received," as well as all other information pertinent to a widening corruption probe.
Latimer demanded that Astorino reveal meetings at his now-closed Manhattan development office, including any meetings with Jona Rechnitz, information the county executive has previously refused to disclose. Rechnitz is a cooperating witness in the federal corruption investigation.
"This goes beyond pay-to-play. This is bribery. Unless he can prove otherwise, Rob Astorino needs to resign," Latimer said outside the U.S. Federal Court in White Plains. "For eight years, Astorino has sold out his office, our airport and countless county services in exchange for campaign contributions and favors. Astorino needs to come clean with the voters, and we need a prompt and thorough investigation by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the U.S. Attorney."
According to federal testimony, Astorino gave Rechnitz and associate Jeremy Reichberg positions as police chaplains in exchange for financial contributions, despite neither being religious officials.
Rechnitz testified that Astorino requested a Rolex watch valued at $10,000, which Astorino reportedly contributed $1,000 to $2,000 towards -- with businessman paying the balance to cover up for the legal prohibition on gifts to elected officials. Rechnitz's JSR Capital donated $15,000 to Astorino's campaign three days after the appointment, with two other entities that share the same address, LTR Trading and Stephnat LLC, contributing $5,000 apiece, according to federal testimony.
In a campsign statement, O'Reilly said, "Rob Astorino did nothing wrong. He went shopping in the city for a second-hand watch a year and a half ago. Mr. Rechnitz, who was in no trouble at the time, offered to help and took him to a store near his office in the Diamond District. Mr. Astorino was then offered the used watch for free.
"Mr. Astorino promptly declined and insisted on paying for it, which he did. He has the credit card receipt to prove it, which he provided to the authorities prosecuting Mr. Rechnitz. Although this transaction occurred almost 18 months ago, Rob Astorino has never been accused of any wrongdoing by any federal or state prosecutor for any reason – again, he did nothing wrong."
"Furthermore, Mr. Rechnitz never spoke with Rob Astorino about a volunteer chaplaincy for himself or anyone else," O'Reilly said.
"Rabbi Reichberg served as an unpaid volunteer chaplain, appointed by the police department. The Westchester County Police severed his chaplaincy when the New York City scandal came to light," O'Reilly said on Friday.
Rechnitz' testimony follows reports earlier this week that Astorino's re-election campaign is being supported by an independent expenditure from alt-right benefactor Robert Mercer. The Long Island billionaire contributed $1 million to a Super PAC to fund attack ads against Latimer. Mercer is a supporter of white supremacist blog Breitbart and its head, former Trump White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, according to Latimer's campaign.
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