Halali, who is also a co-owner of a popular chain of New York pizza shops, declined through a relative to comment about his donations. Maman didn't return numerous phone messages. It was unclear whether either man was actively involved in Pinto's congregation.
Grimm told his hometown newspaper on Staten Island, The Advance, that he began cultivating a relationship with Pinto in October of 2009 on the advice of a friend, who thought the rabbi might be helpful raising money.
At age 38, Pinto has achieved a fervent following in Israel, and has become famous there for his connections to political figures and business tycoons, some of whom credit him with mystical powers to bless their deals.
His success as an adviser to the rich and famous has made his organization wealthy; the Israeli edition of Forbes magazine recently ranked Pinto as Israel's 7th richest rabbi, based on organizational holdings. Long based in the Mediterranean port city of Ashdod, Pinto opened a second headquarters in 2002 in New York, where he resides in a $6.5 million town house and delivers sermons in a building purchased in 2009 for $28.5 million.
When Grimm's campaign began, Pinto's U.S. followers had also begun to establish themselves as a source of campaign cash for pro-Israel candidates. A handful had given hundreds of thousands of dollars to political committees controlled by U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, and U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Democrat.
Grimm, a Catholic ex-Marine and a ferocious supporter of Israel, received his first bundle of checks from the rabbi's supporters in December of 2009, just two months after entering the race.
One donor, New York deli owner Josef Ben Moha, said he and his wife gave a combined $4,800.
"It's not something that I had to have my arm twisted. I was asked nicely. I decided he was a nice guy," said Ben Moha, who has been one of Suky's partners in a real estate venture. "The people who seemed to be helping him, they saw good qualities in him. I guess I did too."
In the two years since the election, Pinto's religious organization, Mosdot Shuva Israel, has been a frequent target of media scrutiny. News articles in the Jewish press accused it of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on luxury travel and raised questions about its handling of millions of dollars in donations.
Pinto's own father-in-law, an influential rabbi in Argentina, complained in a court filing that Pinto — who professes to have no worldly possessions — had enlisted him in a scheme to conceal his ownership of luxury apartments in Jerusalem.
More recently, a Pinto aide, rabbi Abraham Israel, was detained by Israeli police in April as part of an ongoing investigation into suspected money laundering and theft at an anti-poverty charity, Hazon Yeshaya. A spokesman for Pinto said he had no involvement in that charity.
Large amounts of Shuva Israel's money have also disappeared, according to the organization's lawyers. In December, Pinto and his supporters publicly blamed Biton, claiming he had embezzled large sums. They also made allegations, first reported last year in The New York Times, that Biton had conspired with another member of the congregation to extort money from the rabbi by threatening to plant damaging stories about him in the media.
Biton has called the extortion and embezzlement allegations lies.
In the waning days of the 2010 election, Pinto also began telling associates, including then-Congressman Anthony Weiner, that his support of Grimm had been coerced.
Weiner wound up reporting that murky allegation to the FBI. He told the AP he didn't say anything publicly at the time and won't discuss the details of the rabbi's allegations now, because, "I didn't know whether it was true or not." A law enforcement official confirmed that the FBI had received the report.
Grimm has called any suggestion that he was tied up in some sort of plot with Biton, "profoundly absurd."