A Newark federal jury acquitted a former New Jersey assemblyman on all charges of official corruption Dec. 16, thereby underscoring the abusive Justice Department prosecution methods of former U.S. attorney Chris Christie and his successors under the Obama administration.
Democrat L. Harvey Smith put his head on a courtroom table and wept after the judge acquitted him of all six counts of involving claims he took $15,000 in bribes from a federal informant last year. Smith, who turns 62 Sunday, had testified he accepted money only as a campaign donation.
The 46-defendant prosecution had been initiated by the Republican Christie, who went on to win his state's governorship in part because of his image as a crime fighter.
Christie's successors failed to call informant Solomon Dwek after his credibility was destroyed in the previous trial in the case, in which Ridgefield's mayor was acquitted.
Dwek committed a $50 million bank fraud and ran a brothel before authorities recruited him and provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to help win convictions against New Jersey politicians (nearly all Democrats), rabbis and others. The Justice Integrity Project has attacked the fairness of the prosecution and the vast waste of taxpayer money repeatedly thsi fall in such articles as "Christie's Corruption Case Shows Horrid Legacy of 'Loyal Bushies,' Cover-ups," published Dec. 3 by OpEd News.
The defendant's attorney Peter Willis attacked Christie after the verdict. “He had his own political ambitions,” Willis was quoted as saying “You can draw any inference you want from that.”
The Jersey Journal quoted Christie’s spokesman Michael Drewniak, a former spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, as saying, “I guess a solid trial victory isn’t enough for Mr. Willis, so he has to conflate it into this sort of cocky nonsense,” Drewniak said. “Through his comments, Willis denigrates the hard-working assistant U.S. Attorneys of the Department of Justice and special agents of the FBI as well.” A number of national political writers have touted Christie as a potential 2012 GOP Presidential candidate on the basis of his image as a corruption-fighter. JIP, however, has documented that the Justice Department has helped route vast amounts of money to well-connected insiders in the Bid Rig III and other investigations. Several news articles on the verdict are summarized below:
Jersey Journal/NJ.com, L. Harvey Smith calls acquittal in corruption trial 'best birthday present,' Melissa Hayes, Dec. 16, 2010.
“I think that the jury accepted Harvey’s history of honesty, dedicated public service,” Willis said. “I really believe that, that is what led to the verdict.” Smith was accused of accepting $15,000 in bribes from a federal informant. He was found not guilty of one count of extortion under color of official right, two counts of attempted extortion and two counts of bribery. He was also charged with one count of money laundering for allegedly having $5,000 in cash converted into a check and money orders, which were deposited into his campaign account when he was running for mayor of Jersey City in 2009.
“We had every confidence in the strength of the evidence but, as always, we respect the jury’s verdict,” U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said. “The loss of an individual case is clearly disappointing, but we are undeterred in our mission to root out those who use official positions to betray the trust of the people of New Jersey.”
Jersey Journal/NJ.com, Hudson County politicos weigh in on L. Harvey Smith not guilty verdict, Brett Wilshe, Dec. 16, 2010.
"Tremendous! Tremendous!," former Assemblyman Lou Manzo, said tonight after learning that a federal jury in Newark found former Jersey City Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith not guilty of taking bribes from a government informant.
"These are just CYA trials. Prosecutors just going through the motions in order to protect their colleagues who broke the law and obstructed justice. Everyone knows the sting helped Christie's election along with the architects in the USAO who negotiated jobs and donated money to him while they illegally handled the prosecutions," Manzo added. Lou Manzo and his brother Ronald Manzo, who were also arrested as part of last year's Operation Bid Rig III sting, sucessfully argued in court that neither one was an elected official at the time they allegedly accepted these bribes so therefore the government could not charge them under the federal Hobbs Act.
Jersey Journal/NJ.com, Former Jersey City Assemblyman found not guilty on all six counts, Ian C. Bates, Dec. 16, 2010.
Smith was accused of accepting $15,000 in bribes from Solomon Dwek, the government informant at the center of last year's sweeping sting operation that led to 46 arrests. Smith testified during the trial that he returned the the first $5,000 of the money to an intermediary and intended to give back the other $10,000, but was arrested before he could return the money.
Newark Star-Ledger/NJ.com, Ex-Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith is found not guilty of accepting $15K in bribes, MaryAnn Spoto, Dec. 16, 2010.