New Jersey Defendant Alleges DOJ Misconduct, Seeks Attorneys Fees

Louis ManzoA former New Jersey mayoral candidate who says his life was destroyed by unfounded corruption charges filed papers last week alleging gross misconduct by authorities.

Louis Manzo, left, who this month won dismissal of corruption charges announced in 2009, filed unusually detailed allegations to support his request for $150,000 in attorneys fees and his longstanding allegations that Bush-era U.S. Attorney Chris Christie and his successors used reprehensible means to target New Jersey Democrats. Chris Christie

Meanwhile, Christie, right, mocked as corruption-prone his state's predominately Democratic Hudson County. Christie was campaigning over the weekend in Illinois to support the Presidential bid of fellow Republican Mitt Romney. More generally, the controversy reflects intense disputes nationally over whether unaccountable federal prosecutors have been misusing their powers to target political opponents, whistleblowers, other government critics and news reporters.

Manzo's March 14 motion to recover legal fees is here with a 48-page exhibit of evidence here. In it, he argues that a Christie-initiated investigation improperly empowered a Republican con man named Solomon Dwek, who pled guilty to creating a $50 million bank fraud. In 2009, shortly after Christie left his U.S. attorney's post, his successors used vast amounts of taxpayer funds to tempt primarily Democratic candidates running for local offices near New York City.

Manzo alleges that the prosecution focus on Democratic targets to help Christie's 2009 election campaign for governor was part of the abuse, as was migration of a dozen staffers from the U.S. attorney's office to the Christie administration once their former boss was elected. Among other allegations, Manzo says authorities should have known from the start they were using the Hobbs Act improperly against him because the anti-bribery law is intended for elected officials, not candidates.

Paul FishmanAuthorities, including Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, left, have defended their decision-making. and note that they have secured guilty pleas or jury convictions for many of Manzo's 46 co-defendants in the so-called Bid Rig III mass arrests orchestrated in July 2009 by Interim U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra, below right. He later joined the Christie administration as did another top aide, Michele Brown, who had reputedly advocated for arrest timing that would help the Christie campaign at the same time he had secretly loaned her $46,000. An internal DOJ probe leaked toRalph Marra a reporter friendly to the Justice Department showed no Marra wrongdoing in his comments about the prosecution. But authorities have declined to make public the report. Separately, Brown resigned from the DOJ after then-incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine, Christie's Democratic opponent, complained about her role handling Freedom of Information requests. The DOJ has not commented on whether it ever investigated for potential conflicts the dozen employees of the office who took jobs with Christie.   

U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Rebekah Carmichael responded last week to Manzo with an unusually personal comment: “It is stunning that someone who was recorded agreeing to sell the office for which he was running conduct a federal judge described as reprehensible would attack prosecutors who were following that evidence where it led.” Manzo has denied that ever took or agreed to take money from Dwek.

Listed below are background news articles with links to relevant context. Cited also are links to the aftermath of a major failed public corruption probe in Alabama where the Justice Department failed to obtain a single jury conviction despite two trials in a massive case alleging that legalized gambling advocate Milton McGregor conspired to bribe state legislators. The Alabama prosecutions, like those in New Jersey, stem from the 2006 Bush administration purge of nine U.S. attorneys, leaving in place so-called "Loyal Bushies" in New Jersey, Alabama and elsewhere who used dubious methods later supported by Obama appointees under Attorney Gen. Eric Holder.

At the same time, free press and other civil rights advocates are assailing the Obama Justice Department for its crackdown on whistleblowers and their media contacts. Those disputes include news of war, covert actions, contracting or electronic surveillance of the civilian U.S. population. Author and former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges recently summarized developments in a column excerpted below. As part of it, he wrote:

The Obama administration is attempting to force New York Times reporter James Risen to name the source, or sources, that told him about a failed effort by the Central Intelligence Agency to sabotage Iran's nuclear program. Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer, is charged under the Espionage Act for allegedly leaking information about the program to Risen. If Risen confirms in court that Sterling was his source, Sterling probably will be convicted. A Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Espionage Act would also remove the legal protection that traditionally allows journalists to refuse to reveal their sources.

 

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Related News Coverage

Update:

Associated Press / ABC-TV, Christie taps Kanefsky for Consumer Affairs job, April 18, 2012. Gov. Chris Christie has added another former federal prosecutor to his administration. The governor named Eric Kanefsky as chief of the state's Division of Consumer Affairs on Wednesday. He succeeds Thomas Calcagni, another former federal prosecutor who now works as counsel to Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa. Kanefsky will report to Chiesa, who also is a former federal prosecutor. Kanefsky will serve as the consumer affairs division's acting director until the state Senate considers his nomination.

Jersey Journal, Former Jersey City council candidate argues federal prosecutors targeted her because she's a Democrat, Terrence T. McDonald, March 21, 2012.  Lawyers for Lori Serrano, the Jersey City City Council candidate arrested in the 2009 corruption sweep, argue in a new court filing that Serrano’s mail-fraud indictment should be dismissed, saying the U.S. Attorney’s Office discriminated against her because she is a Democrat. Serrano, and other Operation Bid Rig III defendants, were arrested and prosecuted so Gov. Chris Christie, the former U.S. Attorney and then gubernatorial candidate, could gain an “unfair advantage” over Democrats in the 2009 state election, the March 19 motion reads. Serrano, a former Jersey City Housing Authority chair, is charged with not reporting a $5,000 cash payment from confidential informant Solomon Dwek on campaign-finance documents. “Prior to her meeting with government agent Dwek, she was never identified as one who would take bribes,” reads the 13-page motion. “With no history of public office, there was no legitimate reason for her to be targeted.” Serrano’s lawyers also argue that there is no merit to the mail fraud charge, which stems from federal prosecutors’ assertion that she mailed a “materially false” campaign report that did not have any reference to the Dwek payment.

NJ.com, Gov. Christie takes stage in support of Mitt Romney at Illinois rally, Jenna Portnoy, March 16, 2012. Gov. Mitt Romney is up in the polls here ahead of Tuesday's election. But a campaign taking nothing for granted in the four-way race for the GOP nomination dispatched Gov. Christie to Elmhurst College to fire up voters. In a 30-minute speech in a packed hall, Christie said Romney's financial and personal successes prove he can run the country and wield executive power better than anyone else in the running. Cynical voters who believe the political system is so broken that not even Romney can change minds have nothing on the Garden State, he said: "I’ve just come from New Jersey." He said reform through compromise is possible even in the home of the Sopranos, eliciting chuckles from the crowd, and slipping in some of his background as former U.S. Attorney. “We have a great county in New Jersey called Hudson County," he said. "These are folks who definitely color outside the lines. It’s a big county with big ideas of how to help themselves." He joked former Gov. former Gov. Brendan Byrne, a Democrat, told Christie he wants to be buried in Hudson County “because I want to remain active in politics."

Jersey Journal, Misconduct in NJ's USAO? "Absurd! Agustin C. Torres, March 17, 2012. Former 31st District assemblyman Lou Manzo, who had the federal corruption indictment against him dropped last month by a federal judge, is now seeking restitution of his legal expenses from the federal government. A motion was filed Wednesday under what is called the Hyde Amendment, where former defendants ask to be reimbursed for expenses incurred under what is considered wrongful prosecution cases. In the court papers, Manzo's attorney, John Lynch of Union City, argues that there was selective prosecution and it was politically motivated. They call its a frivolous lawsuit. Manzo has always insisted that Operation Big Rig III was meant to bolster Chris Christie's gubernatorial campaign and that people in the U.S. Attorney's Office were negotiating for posts in a Christie state administration. A spokesman for the feds had said the Manzo assertions are absurd, and that spokesman now performs the same duties from the Governor's Office.

Jersey Journal, Hudson County politicians call Gov. Christie's claim that county is out to "help themselves" outrageous, Stephanie Musat, March 17, 2012. In a 30-minute speech in a packed hall, Christie said Romney's financial and personal successes prove he can run the country and wield executive power better than anyone else in the running. Governor Chris Christie took the stage in Illinois in support of Mitt Romney's presidential bid. But before the New Jersey Governor talked about the Republican nominee, he took a shot at one of his own counties. In his 28-minute speech, Christie constantly referenced New Jersey as a punch line but some Hudson County politicians think the governor took it too far when he called Hudson County for its corruption-riddled past. Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise said using Hudson County as the butt of his jokes is getting old. Former Assemblyman Lou Manzo called the statement "tasteless and hypocritical," adding that because he was in Illinois -- not New Jersey -- the statement was cowardly as well. Manzo said Christie has done his own "coloring outside the lines to help himself," noting when Christie didn't report a loan he had given to one of the lead prosecutors that aided his campaign, Christie called it "an honest mistake."

Louis Manzo Response To Christie Comments, March 16, 2012. Governor Christie, as a former United States Attorney, along with the bulk of his cabinet appointments from that former office, should know a lot about coloring outside the lines. They did a lot of that when failing to follow federal laws in recusing themselves from a series of dubious prosecutions timed to buoy Christie's campaign for Governor, and which boosted his elections and their careers in state government. In dismissing some of the charges the prosecutors brought, a District Court and an Appellate Court called their prosecution theories "legal alchemy." They likewise ignored evidence that incriminated public and party officials who intimately involved in Christie's campaign for governor. In the same speech he made, referring to the USAO [U.S. Attorney's Office] staff of prosecutors who were to soon find jobs with Governor Christie, he said, "We don't have to worry about a reasonable doubt anymore." Governor Christie also did some very creative coloring outside of the lines, on his own, to help himself. When he failed to follow the law, three times, and report a loan he had given to one of the lead prosecutors working the select and dubious prosecutions that aided his campaign, Christie called it "an honest mistake." Unfortunately, two minority woman who were candidates for office in Hudson County, were charged with a federal crime for like conduct under "mail fraud," by the same team of prosecutors who chose not to charge Christie, and now work for him. Perhaps, that was just a second, honest mistake. What he and those prosecutors did should not be the subject matter for comical relief. They destroyed the lives of families.

Jersey Journal, Former assemblyman Louis Manzo says feds broke law in prosecuting him and should reimburse him $150,000, Michaelangelo Conte, March 15, 2012.  Now that every charge filed against former state assemblyman Louis Manzo by the U.S. Attorney’s Office has been thrown out by a judge, Manzo has filed a motion seeking to have $150,000 in attorney fees reimbursed under the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment, which was enacted in 1997, allows for court costs to be reimbursed to criminal defendants where the court finds the position of the United States was “vexatious, frivolous, or in bad faith.” “What we filed today shows without a doubt that federal prosecutors broke the law, and my question is why are they immune and why isn’t anyone prosecuting them,” Manzo told The Jersey Journal. Manzo said he has lost his house and business as a result of the failed prosecution. Compensation awarded under the Hyde Amendment would come out of the budget of the specific federal agency involved, in this case the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Alabama Bingo Case

Florence Times-Daily (Alabama), Millions lost in Alabama gambling trial, Mike Goens, March 11, 2012. Did the guilty get away with it or did another political witch hunt blow up in the faces of those with an agenda? Either way, between 35 million and 40 million of our tax dollars walked out the door Wednesday with the remaining six defendants in a federal gambling corruption trial. All six, as well as fellow defendants who were acquitted in 2011 during the first trial, were found not guilty Wednesday. By the way, some estimate as much as $50 million was spent on investigating and prosecuting the defendants, which included a casino owner, former and current state legislators, lobbyists and others. In trying to answer the question posed above, it seems logical this case is another example of a political witch hunt gone bad....You know, $35 million could pay for a nice prison in a state so financially strapped that many convicts will likely be released early because it cannot afford to house them. Imagine that, building a new prison for real criminals instead of wasting money on a political agenda. Don’t underestimate the financial losses and attacks on personal reputations that defendants suffered in this case. The government doesn’t have to worry about those individuals. Prosecutors can go on to the next case without any financial obligation. It’s unfair at best.

Justice Integrity Project, Alabama's Bingo Nightmare Is Over, But We Still Need Accountability, Roger Shuler, March 9, 2012. One of the most embarrassing episodes in the history of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) ended March 7 when a federal jury found that all defendants in the Alabama bingo trial were not guilty. The jury clearly reached the correct verdict -- and after two trials and a months-long, anti-bingo crusade led by former Governor Bob Riley (below right) -- citizens might be tempted to say, "Whew, thank God that's over."

DOJ Crackdowns On 'Security' Risk Whistleblowers, WikiLeaks, Other Media

 

Chris HedgesOpEd News, Supreme Court Likely to Endorse Obama's War on Whistle-Blowers, Chris Hedges (right), March 12, 2012. President Obama, who serves the interests of the surveillance and security state with even more fervor than did George W. Bush, has used the Espionage Act to charge suspected leakers six times since he took office. The latest to be charged by the Obama administration under the act is John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer accused of disclosing classified information to journalists about the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, an al-Qaida suspect. Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, which published the cables and video clips allegedly provided by Manning, is expected to be the seventh charged under the act. The Supreme Court has yet to hear a case involving the Espionage Act. But one of these six cases will probably soon reach the court. If it, as expected, rules that the government is permitted to use the Espionage Act against whistle-blowers, the United States will have a de facto official secrets act. A ruling in favor of the government would instantly criminalize all disclosures of classified information to the public. It would shut down one of the most important functions of the press. And at that point any challenges to the official versions of events would dry up. The Obama administration, to make matters worse, has mounted a war not only against those who leak information but those who publish it, including Assange.

National Press Club, National Press Club, Other Groups Urge Pentagon to Allow Sunshine on Wikileaks Court Martial, John Donnelly
March 12, 2012. The National Press Club and 46 other journalism organizations joined in a letter Monday to the Pentagon urging greater openness in its court martial proceedings in general and particularly in the case of Bradley Manning, the Army private accused of releasing classified information to the Wikileaks organization. In the letter to Defense Department General Counsel Jeh C. Johnson, the media groups requested that the press and public have at least as much access to court records in domestic courts martial as they now get when covering military commission proceedings at the U.S. military’s prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Achieving that degree of transparency would “ensure that military personnel tried stateside have the same rights to a public trial as those afforded accused terrorists,” the letter states. The reforms called for reflect those now instituted at Guantanamo Bay and include online posting within one day of filings or decisions that do not require classification review.

Washington Post, Prosecution of ex-NSA official Thomas Drake was ‘ill-considered,’ former agency spokesman says, Ellen Nakashima, March 12, 2012. A former Justice Department spokesman has acknowledged that the prosecution of former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake was “ill-considered.” In an exchange with Politico correspondent Josh Gerstein about the department’s prosecutions of alleged leakers, former Department of Justice Director of Public Affairs Matt Miller on Saturday said the Drake case, which ended last year in a misdemeanor plea deal, was unlike other cases because “Drake did seem to be trying to expose actual government waste. I think the outcome of the case probably shows that it was an ill-considered choice for prosecution.”  The plea deal was a major embarrassment for the department, which had showcased Drake’s 2010 indictment as a signal to would-be leakers. Even after the case blew up, Miller continued to defend the prosecution. “It’s an important principle that people who have access to classified information follow the law and the agreements they have signed to protect that information,” he was quoted as saying in The New York Times. He also said, “The indictment was brought on the merits, and nothing else.” Today, Miller appears to be taking a different tone. “This is not just backtracking,” said Jesselyn Radack, one of Drake’s attorneys. “It is complete revisionist history.”

Washington Post, State Dept. moves to fire Peter Van Buren, author of book critical of Iraq reconstruction effort, Lisa Rein, March 14, 2012. Peter Van Buren, a foreign service officer who wrote an unflattering book about his year leading two reconstruction teams in Iraq, was stripped of his security clearance, banned from State Department headquarters for a time and transferred to a telework job that consists of copying Peter Van BurenInternet addresses into a file. Now the State Department is moving to fire him based on eight charges, ranging from linking on his blog to documents on the whistleblowing site WikiLeaks to disclosing classified information. In 24 years as a diplomat, Van Buren, at left, was posted around the world and speaks four languages. He called the termination notice he received Friday the coup de grace in a series of blows he received since his book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, was published last fall.  ith his book, based on a year he spent in the Iraqi desert in 2009.

FireDogLake, UN Torture Chief’s Report Officially Condemns US Treatment of Bradley Manning, Kevin Gosztola, March 12, 2012. After fourteen months of investigation, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez has published his report on the United States’ “cruel and inhuman treatment” of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who allegedly released classified information to WikiLeaks. The findings are part of a report on “torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” in countries of the world. Mendez concluded, “Imposing seriously punitive conditions of detention on someone who has not been found guilty of any crime is a violation of his right to physical and psychological integrity as well as of his presumption of innocence.” He demanded to know why the government was holding an “unindicted detainee in solitary confinement.” The government asserted in a response to Mendez that the “brig commander” had authorization to “impose” an “isolation regime” because of the “seriousness of the offense” for which Manning would eventually be charged.  Mendez tried to get a private unmonitored meeting with Manning on the conditions of his detention.

OpEd News, The Dirty War on WikiLeaks is Now Trial by Media in Sweden, John Pilger, March 12, 2012. War by media, says current military doctrine, is as important as the battlefield. This is because the real enemy is the public at home, whose manipulation and deception are essential for starting an unpopular colonial war. To the chagrin of many in authority and the media, WikiLeaks has torn down the facade behind which rapacious western power and journalism collude. Today, war by media is increasingly understood by the public, as is the trial by media of WikiLeaks' founder, and editor Julian Assange. Assange will soon know if the Supreme Court in London is to allow his appeal against extradition to Sweden, where he faces allegations of sexual misconduct, most of which were dismissed by a senior prosecutor in Stockholm and do not constitute a crime in Britain. On bail for 16 months, tagged and effectively under house arrest, he has been charged with nothing. His "crime" has been an epic form of investigative journalism: revealing to millions of people the lies and machinations of their politicians and officials and the barbarism of criminal war conducted in their name.