My Penance and Discovering That I’m Human

Staten Island Congressman, jailed on a single count of tax evasion, emerges wiser and humbled

Congressman Michael Grimm (R-NY) at bi-partisan inauguration brunch at Cafe Milano on January 20, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Congressman Michael Grimm (R-NY) at bi-partisan inauguration brunch at Cafe Milano on January 20, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Charles Norfleet/Getty Images)

As a US Marine during the First Gulf War, I advanced with troops ahead of the main offensive. As an FBI undercover agent, I infiltrated the dangerous criminal underworld to provide justice for victims and make our country safer. As a Member of Congress, I took a leading role in helping the victims of the devastating Super-Storm Sandy. Then I went to prison for seven months. I pleaded guilty and served time for paying delivery staff “off the books” at a fast food restaurant in which I was a 45% partner.

I learned the hard way that I am only human, and that with success comes more responsibility.

Unfortunately, after the demonizing media barrage aimed at me for the past 40+ months, many are under the false impression that I was a corrupt politician. To be clear, I accepted responsibility for failing to file accurate restaurant’s taxes – mostly pertaining to the employees who were paid in cash. It’s something that never should have happened, there are no excuses, I was wrong. Although I did this before I was elected to Congress, as a Marine, a former FBI Agent, and a lawyer, I should have known better.

It’s not easy going from hero to villain.

I was a young Marine and believed I was indestructible and, therefore, volunteered for what was advertised as a potential suicide mission. It was weeks after my 21st birthday when my commanding officer told us to look at the Marine to our right and then at the Marine to our left; at least one of us, he said, would likely not be coming back. He then asked if we were still willing to tackle the assignment. I stepped forward.

Our mission was to assist with communications between the forward most units, which included our Special Forces, and the rear command – while pushing back enemy combatants. We were headed directly down a path that the Iraqis did not think anyone would attempt; a six-mile stretch of anti-tank landmines. My Humvee hit one such mine, but miraculously I was not injured in the explosion. Later, we saw a Humvee on that route that also hit a mine; I believe three Marines died.

We were then offered another chance to withdraw. I chose to complete the mission, and I found myself walking in the dark, along the very six-mile stretch that almost killed me earlier with Iraqi prisoners (EPW’s) in tow. All were delivered to safety.

After my tour, I signed up with the FBI, as a clerk on the graveyard shift, because it allowed me to complete my education. I earned an accounting degree from Baruch College then went to work on Wall Street as an analyst and then a stockbroker.

Although lucrative, I found Wall Street uninspiring, so I went back to the FBI as a Special Agent. I furthered my education by attending New York Law School as a full-time night student. My graduation coincided with the launch of my undercover career; being inserted deep undercover to expose the corruption on the very Wall Street that I had left. I remained in deep cover for over five years, working various investigations throughout the country.

Searching for greater financial opportunity with a dream of owning my own business, I left the FBI and tried my luck as a partner in a small health food restaurant. I made some poor choices. They did not seem that way at the time, nor did I take the time to think it through.

I grew up in a respectable, lower middle-class family. My father worked tirelessly to make ends meet as a union roofer. On weekends, he worked “side jobs,” usually off the books. The same is true for the first few jobs I worked before reaching legal working age – stocking grocery shelves and making local deliveries; they, too, were off the books. So in my view there wasn’t anything odd when my partners and I paid some delivery staff in cash, in addition to the tips they received from customers.

With my background, I should have known that it was against the law. My conduct was wrong, and I spent seven months in Pennsylvania’s McKean Federal Correctional Institution for it, affording me much time to consider my actions.

Infractions such as mine are routinely handled with civil or administrative action, usually resulting in fines from the Department of Labor; research indicates that no other restaurant owner in the history of the City had ever been hit with felony charges and jail time. No excuses. I deeply regret my actions, and learned just how human I am, with frailties and failings. I had to fall far to appreciate that fully.

My heroes and role models were never celebrities, politicians, or the rich and powerful. My idol was my father, and the hard-working people I knew. They struggled to put food on their tables and made sure their children had a little bit more than they did. That was always the American Dream, and it made this country great.

Inspiration led me from business to public service, and in 2010 I ran for Congress and won. As a Representative I worked hard for my constituents, including victims of Sandy and others who suffered from catastrophic flooding, estimated at nearly six million people nationwide. In early 2014, I sponsored the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act over strenuous objections from my own party leadership. After an arduous battle and expending tremendous political capital, it became law.

Then there were false allegations that I raised money illegally and coerced people, which I shrugged off. I knew how outlandish they were; not a chance for this Marine. The fact is that no such charges were ever formally brought against me, and 19 counts of the 20-count indictment relating to my business and taxes were dropped.

Now, I will draw on everything I learned from the military and FBI to get back to the level of excellence I should have always maintained.

I am looking forward to moving ahead with the same vigor I had when I first ran for Congress, motivated and determined to restore and redeem my reputation and to demonstrate that I am the same person who served this nation honorably for 21 years. That is why I shared my experience as a Marine, not for accolades or recognition, but to help answer the question about who Michael Grimm is. I am a lot of things, but above all else, I am the man who will always run toward the line of fire to serve the people and my country.

Public service and a love for our great country are in my blood, and there is still much to be done. My experiences can be a lesson for others, and I intend to put them to work. I am putting this horrific ordeal behind me, and getting back to work. My desire to serve and contribute to the greatest nation in the world remains undaunted.

Michael Grimm represented Staten Island and a chunk of Brooklyn in the United States Congress from 2011 to 2015. My Penance and Discovering That I’m Human