Staten Island State Representative Michael Grimm has a big PR problem on his hands—and it’s threatening to extend to some well-known faces within the industry itself.
The big news: On Friday, federal authorities arrested Israeli national Ofer Biton, who happens to be one of Grimm’s top fundraisers, and charged him with immigration fraud. The government has accused Biton of lying about his business ventures and extorting funds in an effort to win a permanent US visa–but this isn’t the first time he’s attracted suspicion.
Biton was a top aide to Upper East Side rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto until 2010, and investigators “have been investigating the possibility” that he was responsible for the disappearance of up to $6 million originally belonging to members of Pinto’s yeshiva. Biton solicited a good deal of cash from this crowd in support of State Rep. Grimm, and the rabbi’s followers believe that he also pocketed millions of dollars meant to go to politicians and related charities. Biton has even been accused of leaking negative stories about Pinto to reporters and then using the bad press to blackmail him into hiring a professional representative.
The big PR name in this sundry tale is that of Ronn Torossian.
If you work in the PR industry, you have almost certainly seen Torossian’s face around, even if you don’t subscribe to his regular e-mail updates. The author, frequent tweeter, go-to “Inside Edition” PR expert and executive at top-25 firm 5WPR is already known as an “aggressive” representative. He’s handled big names like Ice Cube and Sean “Diddy” Combs, and he’s not afraid to take unorthodox steps in the interest of protecting his clients’ reputations: In 2008, he admitted that “a senior staff member” had trolled negative stories about a client and left supportive comments under the name of one of the client’s top critics.
There’s no doubt that Torossian attended Pinto’s yeshiva in the past, but the rabbi’s followers have now accused him of acting in concert with Biton–and the relationship between the two has grown extremely combative in recent months.
Torossian’s lawyer called the latest story “a collection of hints and innuendos”, and the man himself has voluntarily spoken to reporters from The New York Times in the past to accuse the “gangster” rabbi and his “cabal of liars” of threatening his family and waging a “personal vendetta” against him. While Torossian is presumed innocent and there’s been no indication that the government will charge him with any crime, the very fact that his name made its way into tales of allegiance and betrayal must have had some effect on his reputation as a PR man.
The government wants Biton to turn state’s witness. If that happens, we assume that more names will be dropped and ensuing public relations disasters will be managed. More on the story as it develops.