In the gilded, leafy confines of Forest Hills Gardens in Queens, the house on Greenway North and Puritan Avenue stands out for its shabbiness.
While nearly every other one of the Tudor homes in this stately enclave is meticulously maintained, and their English garden-style grounds extremely well tended, the large corner house looks as if it has been abandoned.
“Everyone says he keeps the house that way so it looks like no one’s home,” a neighbor said as she gazed out her screen door at the house on Friday.
She was referring to the house’s owner, John F. Haggerty Jr., the Republican political consultant currently on trial in Manhattan Criminal Court on charges that he stole $1.1 million from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and used much of it to pay off the house.
The lawn has apparently not been mowed for months, chest-high weeds have sprung up, and the path to the front door is littered with fallen horse chestnuts from the mammoth tree in front. Bricks have come loose from the porch, and a pair of neglected, dirt-laden cars snooze in the driveway.
The neighbor — who like other neighbors interviewed, refused to give her name, lest she look disloyal – said Mr. Haggerty certainly does live there but can be seen only when walking between his front door and his blue BMW SUV.
“If his blue SUV is there, he’s home,” the neighbor said.
Mr. Haggerty is charged with first-degree grand larceny and other crimes. Prosecutors allege that Mr. Haggerty, one of the city’s most adroit Republican operatives, stole the money from Mr. Bloomberg by promising to provide ballot security for the 2009 election when he had no intention of doing so.
Prosecutors say Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign contributed the money to the Independence Party to be used for ballot security. The Independence Party gave $750,000 of that money to Mr. Haggerty, but instead of using it to pay for the security operations, he put most of it toward purchasing the house, owned by his father. His father, also named John F. Haggerty, was an Albany insider and lawyer and one of the most powerful political fixtures in this part of Queens, with its century-old houses built as a utopian escape from the city.
Perhaps the clearest indication that the house would be something of a legal football in Mr. Haggerty’s trial came during the prosecution’s opening statement.
The first thing that prosecutors did was put up a picture of the house in its most pristine state on a screen for the jury and everyone in the courtroom to see.
Brian P. Weinberg, an assistant district attorney, called it “a very nice home on a tree-lined street in Forest Hills Gardens, Queens.”
Mr. Haggerty wanted to own the house outright, Mr. Weinberg told the jury, but he did not have enough money to buy out his brother’s interest in it.
“What he did have, though, was access to one of the largest mayoral campaigns this city has ever seen,” Mr. Weinberg told the jury. “The defendant devised a scheme to steal the mayor’s money just so he could buy that house.”
Prosecutors have filed a civil suit in State Supreme Court seeking to take possession of the house, which local realtors say could likely command $1.8 million if put on the market.
Mr. Haggerty grew up in the house and began working his way up as a Republican party operative, starting as a teenager when he handed out fliers for politicians.
Friends of the family said that, after the death of Mr. Haggerty’s father, the house was left to Mr. Haggerty and his brother, Bart Haggerty, also a political operative in Queens. Prosecutors say John Haggerty bought out his brother’s interest with the mayor’s money.
In his opening statement, Raymond R. Castello, one of Mr. Haggerty’s lawyers, conceded that his client used some of the money the mayor contributed to the Independence Party to buy the house. But that was money that the Independence Party had transferred to a company that Mr. Haggerty owned, Special Elections Operations, Mr. Castello said.
“Since when does the owner of a company not have the right to use the money” for his own benefit, Mr. Castello said.
Mr. Haggerty has long been known for keeping a low profile.
On Friday, many windows in the house were open, and many files and papers could be seen strewn on tables and chairs inside. No one responded to knocks at the door.
Several neighbors said that when the HBO miniseries “Mildred Pierce” was being filmed at the castlelike house next door to Mr. Haggerty’s house, the film crew hired a landscaper to mow his lawn without his permission, which angered him.
One neighbor who said she knew Mr. Haggerty since he was a child, said, “He used to mow my lawn – now I just wish he’d mow his.”
Mr. Haggerty’s trial continues in Manhattan on Monday, when Mr. Bloomberg is scheduled to take the witness stand.
John Eligon and occasional guest reporters take you inside the city’s halls of law every Friday. Have a tip? Send an e-mail message to [email protected].