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I Paid for Councilman's Rent and Staffer's Colonoscopy: Campaign Volunteer

By James Fanelli | December 22, 2016 12:34pm | Updated on December 23, 2016 4:08pm
 A volunteer to Councilman Corey Johnson's campaign said he bought clothes and paid rent for Johnson.
A volunteer to Councilman Corey Johnson's campaign said he bought clothes and paid rent for Johnson.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

CHELSEA — City investigators have been looking into allegations that City Councilman Corey Johnson took money from a campaign volunteer during the 2013 election to pay for rent, clothes, office supplies and other expenses, DNAinfo New York has learned.

The volunteer — whom DNAinfo is not naming — said he gave in excess of $8,000 to Johnson during his 2013 run — and none of it was recorded as regular campaign donation. The volunteer also paid $1,500 to cover part of a medical procedure for Johnson's campaign manager, R.J. Jordan.

Jordan confirmed to DNAinfo that the volunteer paid $1,500 to cover the co-payment on his colonoscopy, but said the money had nothing to do with the campaign.

"The payment for my colonoscopy procedure was an agreement made between friends outside of my parameters as Corey's campaign manager," Jordan said. "I've been poor my whole life, and mostly without insurance, so when [the volunteer] offered to pay for the procedure, I was elated."

The city Department of Investigation received a complaint about the financial assistance to Johnson in June. The complaint — which DNAinfo has a copy of — was also sent to the city Board of Elections and the state Attorney General's Office.

After reviewing the complaint, the attorney general's office determined that the allegations fell under the jurisdiction of the city's Campaign Finance Board and forwarded the document to the agency.

The volunteer told DNAinfo that he did not send the complaint, but he said he met with DOI investigators and confirmed to them that the complaint's allegations were accurate. The person who submitted the complaint told DNAinfo that she also met with DOI investigators. The volunteer said the Campaign Finance Board also contacted him.

DOI declined to comment on the probe.

Campaign Finance Board spokesman Matthew Sollars said his agency received a copy of the complaint that was filed with the attorney general’s office, but declined to comment further.

"It is agency policy not to comment on such matters,” he said.

Stu Loeser, a spokesman and Johnson's friend, declined to comment on the allegations or answer whether the councilman took money from the volunteer during the 2013 campaign.

"There's an individual in Councilman Johnson's district that has said a wide range of untrue things about him to a wide range of people," Loeser said.

The city's campaign finance law requires candidates to disclose all monetary contributions. The disclosures include in-kind donations or gifts with significant intrinsic and enduring value. The maximum contribution an individual can legally make to a City Council candidate during an election cycle is $2,750.

The volunteer said he gave "plenty of in-kind donations to the Corey Johnson campaign."

The volunteer, who lives in Chelsea, which falls in Johnson's district, started helping the campaign in June 2013 at the encouragement of a neighbor. The volunteer said he helped out in Johnson's West 20th Street campaign office, drove Johnson around and also put up fliers for the candidate.

The complaint says that Johnson's campaign was constantly running out of money and that the volunteer was asked to help out.

The complaint says the volunteer paid for dinners for the campaign staff, office supplies and stamps. The volunteer also stocked the campaign's refrigerator and paid for rent on Johnson's apartment and office, according to the complaint. He also said he bought pants, shirts, ties and socks for Johnson at J.Crew.

The volunteer said that Johnson also asked him to donate money to the Working Families Party to get its endorsement because the campaign was low on funds. Records show that the volunteer made a $3,000 donation to the Working Families Party.  

"I had never heard of this group before the donation," the volunteer said.

Joe Dinkins, a spokesman for the Working Families Party, said the volunteer's accusation that the $3,000 donation influenced the party's endorsement was "absurd."

"The Working Families Party endorsed Corey Johnson because we thought he'd be an effective fighter for our progressive values — and he has been," Dinkins said. 

The volunteer told DNAinfo that he gave financial assistance to Johnson — who was running for the first time for City Council — because he was impressed by the budding politician.

"We saw somebody that didn't have much but was aspiring to become great," the volunteer said. "That won over the hearts and minds of everyone. His passion, his commitment, his hard work. He seemed very genuine."

The volunteer also said that he did not give the money in exchange for any favors. He also said that Johnson had told him he would pay him back. The volunteer said that, as of yet, he has not been repaid.

The complaint also says that the volunteer paid for Jordan's medical procedure.

Jordan told DNAinfo that he signed on to be Johnson's campaign manager in April 2013. Jordan was a newcomer to politics, having previously worked in the catering industry. He said, like many workers on City Council campaigns, he was paid relatively little.

Campaign expenditure records show the campaign paid him $2,400 a month from April to August of that year. He was paid $3,400 a month in September, October and November of that year.  

Jordan said during the campaign he had no health insurance and was suffering from a longstanding gastrointestinal problem. He said the volunteer offered to help and took him to his doctor in August 2013. 

"It was a friend trying to do a favor for a friend," Jordan said.

Jordan said the $1,500 didn't cover the full cost of the procedure, but he was able to pay the rest of the bill with the help of other friends.

Jordan said he told the volunteer last week that he planned to pay back the $1,500.

The Villager reported in January 2014 that Jordan had been expected to be named Councilman Johnson's chief of staff, but instead the gig went to Jeffrey LeFrancois.

Johnson beat civil rights attorney Yetta Kurland in a bruising battle for Christine Quinn's former City Council seat.

Campaign finance records show that Johnson raised $195,851 in donations for the 2013 race.

The Campaign Finance Board said it has not completed its mandatory audit of Johnson's 2013 campaign.