NEW YORK >> FBI Director James Comey was being honored Monday night by a group whose board includes several people with longtime ties to Donald Trump, including the CEO of the National Enquirer and a convicted felon who goes by the nickname “Joey No Socks.”
Comey, already criticized over his handling of Hillary Clinton’s email investigation in the final days of the presidential campaign, was accepting the lifetime achievement award from the nonprofit Federal Drug Agents Foundation. The group lists more than three dozen board directors on its website; another was the developer of a troubled Trump-branded tower in Toronto.
An FBI spokesman said the foundation provides disability, bereavement and personal crisis support to federal agents and educational and charitable grants. Foundation representatives did not immediately respond to phone and email messages from The Associated Press.
The foundation regularly hosts dinners and events honoring law enforcement officials. Past recipients of the lifetime achievement award include Attorney General Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan.
It was not clear whether Comey — a former U.S. attorney in Manhattan — was aware of the board members’ ties to Trump, or whether he decided those connections were not consequential given the group’s stature with New York law enforcement. But the award and ceremony came as the FBI has been accused by partisans on both the left and right of injecting itself unnecessarily into the presidential race through Comey’s statements and updates about the FBI’s now-concluded review of Hillary Clinton’s email practices.
Among the Trump-connected board members is David Pecker, a friend of Trump’s and the chief executive of American Media Inc., publisher of The National Enquirer.
During the course of the presidential primary campaign, the Enquirer was a regular source of attacks on Trump political rivals, including Jeb Bush, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz. The Wall Street Journal reported last week the magazine paid $150,000 to a former Playboy playmate for her story about having an affair with Trump shortly after he married his third wife, Melania Trump, but never ran it.
“As a founding member of the FDAF I have been a proud and loyal supporter for several years and am honored to be at tonight’s event,” wrote Pecker, a former president of the group, in an email to the AP.
Another board member listed for the group is Alex Schnaider, a billionaire Ukrainian-born commodities trader who built a Trump-branded hotel and condo tower in Toronto which is now in receivership.
“This is one of countless charities that he supports,” said David Zucker, a lawyer in Toronto who represents Schnaider. “He doesn’t actively participate, and he had no idea there was any dinner tonight.”
A third board member is Joseph Cinque, also known as “Joey No Socks,” a convicted felon whose American Academy of Hospitality Sciences has awarded more than a dozen Trump businesses with shiny plaques called “Star Diamond” awards. Cinque didn’t immediately return a request for comment, but a secretary at his business said he was planning on attending the Monday evening ceremony. Trump told the AP in May he didn’t know Cinque well and was unaware of his criminal history for art fencing.
The FBI director announced Sunday he would not recommend charging Clinton criminally after reviewing emails discovered on the computer of former congressman Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
But Comey’s Oct. 28 decision to advise Congress of the newly discovered emails in the first place, before their contents had been reviewed by agents, elicited criticism by former law enforcement officials and others who questioned his judgment to make public details of an ongoing probe in the midst of a presidential election.
The foundation, headquartered on Long Island, funds scholarships and grants to the families of federal agents who have been killed or injured in the line of duty and took in about $122,000 in revenue according to a 2014 tax filing.
A Trump campaign spokesman declined comment.