A Sheepshead Bay restaurateur facing six months in prison for lying to investigators about a “pay to play” scam he had allegedly hammered out with embattled state Sen. Carl Kruger received a slap on the wrist during sentencing last week — he was given no prison time and sent home.
The FBI caught Michael Levitis, who is an attorney besides being a co-owner of the Rasputin Supper Club on Coney Island Avenue and Avenue X, telling another restaurateur and FBI informant that Kruger (D–Brighton Beach) would fix the businessman’s problems with the state if the eatery owner threw the legislator a fundraiser.
Investigators confronted the attorney about the recording, but Levitis backpedaled, claiming that he lied to the informant about Kruger’s scheme.
Levitis ultimately pled guilty to lying to federal investigators in March, just weeks before Kruger was indicted on an unrelated charge — taking close to $1 million in bribes from lobbyists and developers.
But Jeffrey Lichtman, Levitis’s attorney, said the timing of his client’s guilty plea and Kruger’s arrest proves that Levitis “was collateral damage” in the FBI’s zeal to indict the legislator.
“[Brooklyn FBI agents] wanted to indict Kruger, but were unable to,” Lichtman said. “They wanted Michael to cooperate with their investigation, but when that didn’t work out, he ended up as collateral damage. Michael was a victim of their investigation.”
Investigators took an interest in Levitis in 2009 after he recommended that the restaurateur working with the FBI make a donation to Kruger’s campaign. In turn, Kruger would make the eatery owner’s problems with the State Liquor Authority go away, he alleged.
“To start off, you have to throw in a few thousand,” Levitis explained during a conversation recorded on April 14, 2009. “[It] depends on whether the problem is big or small. How much work he has to put in.”
Prosecutors charged that Levitis contacted the undercover restaurateur again on Sept. 18, claiming that Kruger had postponed his hearing with the State Liquor Authority for two weeks.
“So for now you can still work,” Levitis explained. “He asked that you do a fundraiser. I said ‘Help first.’ But he does want you to do a fundraiser.”
Levitis also agreed to help funnel $2,000 to Jason Koppel, Kruger’s chief of staff, from the FBI informant.
But it is unclear if Koppel ever received the money from Levitis, who allegedly managed to swindle $1,000 out of the eatery owner for acting as a go-between.
When word of Levitis’s arrest surfaced, Kruger denied that he had any “pay to play” agreements with campaign contributors.
“I’m a victim in this whole thing,” Kruger said. “[Levitis] went around boasting that he knew me and made representations that the government saw right through.”
Kruger described Levitis as a “casual acquaintance” — even though he received more than $8,000 in contributions and fund-raising services from the Rasputin owner since 2006, according to campaign filings.
Levitis was “thrilled” when he learned that he would not be going to jail last Tuesday, telling Judge Allyne Ross that he learned a valuable lesson.
“Telling an untruth can impact your life forever,” Levitis said.
Kruger is expected to go to trial on bribery charges next January.