Jersey Feds Indict Critic Third Time To Win Christie Case

By Andrew Kreig

Louis ManzoFederal prosecutors indicted for the third time on corruption charges a former New Jersey assemblyman who has emerged as one of their sharpest critics nationally among defendants. Defendant Louis Manzo, left, forced the government to drop its second indictment this spring because federal appeals court judges agreed with his argument that his bribery charges were invalid.  On July 9, Manzo responded to the new indictment by describing it as revenge by what he called “corrupt law enforcement officials.”

The new indictment signed by New Jersey’s U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman accuses Manzo of three felonies: Twice crossing a state border, from New Jersey to Staten Island in nearby New York, to talk with Solomon Dwek, a federal informant who pretended to be a prospective donor to Manzo’s unsuccessful campaign to become mayor of Jersey City in 2009. The third felony charge is that Manzo failed to report as a crime promptings by his brother, Ronald Manzo, and a Jersey City official to accept Dwek’s offered payments. Manzo responded with this statement (which initially had two typos later corrected):

Because I reported crimes committed by federal prosecutors in corrupting a sting operation for the purpose of affecting the 2009 NJ Governor's election, and for personally and professionally benefitting themselves, I am and will be continually pursued by corrupt law enforcement officials. They previously targeted me and brought charges against me unlawfully. They have allowed their own confidential informant to break the law under their own direction by having him put money into active elections, corrupt those election results and disenfranchise voters -- in violation of federal law and the United States Constitution.  The U.S. Attorney’s office has now used evidence they know is untruthful to corrupt the sacred grand jury process for the purpose of indicting me a third time.

Manzo, a Democrat, was one of 46 New Jersey politicians, rabbis and others indicted in July 2009 in the massive “Bid Rig III” corruption investigation initiated by Republican Chris Christie when he was New Jersey’s U.S. attorney. Christie's successors continued the investigation while Christie ran for governor successfully on a campaign platform that touted the case as evidence of his focus on government reform.  Christie has brought a dozen loyalists from his staff at the U.S. attorney’s office, including the top two officials running the office during the last stages of the Bid Rig sting, into state government posts.

Paul J. FishmanFishman, right, a Democratic appointee of President Obama, has continued the prosecutions against Manzo and others all-out, without apology and with a mixed record of success. Revelations have increasingly exposed Dwek as a corrupt and otherwise unreliable witness who committed a $50 million bank fraud and ran a brothel. More recently, Maryland authorities arrested Dwek on charges of stealing a car there, prompting the federal government  to stop paying his $12,500 a month in living expenses, which come from a federally supervised fund of the remaining assets of his bank fraud victims.

Prosecutors failed to call Dwek, now in jail, as a witness in their most recent prosecution last week. This helped prevent the defense from questioning Dwek, the government's star witness in the initial publicity surrounding the indictments and first trials.  The trial of former Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell was a diffeent story. It resulted in the defendant's conviction on just one of three charges involving a $10,000 payment by Dwek during a mayoral campaign. After the verdict one of the jurors said he regretted his vote to convict, saying in retrospect he thought the payment was a legitimate donation. Details on the cases are below.


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Below are background articles on the matters referenced in the column above, and on other recent news items involving the courts See the full article by clicking the link.
New Jersey Corruption Prosecutions

Cliffview Pilot, Manzo: New Jersey corruption sweep meant to sweep Christie, friends into office, Jerry DeMarco, July 11, 2011. EXCLUSIVE: Government crime fighters illegally brought charges against him in order to further their careers and that of Gov. Christie, who, as New Jersey’s chief U.S. prosecutor, oversaw a massive public corruption sweep that overwhelmingly targeted Democrats, former state Assemblyman and Jersey City mayoral candidate Louis Manzo tells CLIFFVIEW PILOT, in an explosive series of emails. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark “used evidence they know is untruthful to corrupt the sacred grand jury process for the purpose of indicting me a third time,” Manzo writes. They also relied on a “prey for pay” informant who was once a major GOP contributor and eventually proved unreliable, he adds.

Jersey Journal, Political Insider Notes, Agustin C. Torres, July 9, 2011. Former Jersey City Assemblyman and record breaking mayoral candidate Louis Manzo, left, has been indicted by the feds, again. You would almost think that it has gotten personal between the U.S. Attorney's Office and Lou. This time his crime, according to the feds, is that he failed to report a crime. This is how he sees it in a statement:  Because I reported crimes committed by federal prosecutors in corrupting a sting operation for the purpose of effecting the 2009 NJ Governor's election, and for personally and professionally benefitting themselves, I am and will be continually persued by corrupt law enforcement officials. They previously targeted me and brought charges against me unlawfully. They have allowed their own confidential informant to break the law under their own direction, by having him put money into active elections, corrupt those election results and disenfranchise voters - in violation of federal law and the United States Constitution.  The USAO has now used evidence they know is untruthful to corrupt the sacred grand jury process for the purpose of indicting me a third time."

Newark Star-Ledger, Juror who voted to convict former Secaucus mayor unhappy with trial's outcome, Jason Grant, July 8, 2011. One of the jurors who voted this week to convict former Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell of bribery says he is upset over delivering a verdict he didn’t believe in, one he now hopes will be overturned on appeal. "I am not happy," said Luis Alba, a 48-year-old private security guard from Hudson County. "Personally, I hope the defense appeals, and if they get a technicality, they can get him free of the (bribery) charge." Later, he said, "It’s unfortunate, but I don’t think (Elwell) accepted the money as a bribe."  In a 25-minute phone interview Thursday evening, Alba said he believed Elwell when he testified that he considered the $10,000 to be a campaign contribution. Asked why he voted to convict on the bribery charge even though he had reasonable doubt and had entered the jury room intending to acquit Elwell on all three counts, Alba said his mind was swayed by other jurors — including four who strongly pushed for a conviction on all counts. "I will not stop thinking about him and his family," he said. "Even though it’s not a personal relationship, you’re affecting people’s lives."

Hudson Reporter, Grand jury indicts former Jersey City mayoral candidate on new charges, July 8, 2011. Former  2009 Jersey City mayoral candidate Louis Manzo was charged Friday by a federal grand jury in a second superseding Indictment for allegedly traveling to establish and facilitate a bribery scheme, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.  Louis Manzo is charged with two counts of violating the federal Travel Act for allegedly traveling twice in aid of bribery, in February and March 2009, and one count of allegedly concealing and not reporting federal offenses committed by others in connection with the scheme. Manzo, a former assemblyman, was among the local officials snagged in a 2009 FBI sting operation in which prosecutors had a government informant offer bribes to politicians running for office. Manzo was one of the few to speak out against the operation, holding a press conference last year to criticize it.

Justice Integrity Project, NJ Court Weighs Arrest of Star DOJ Anti-Corruption Witness, Andrew Kreig, June 28, 2011.  A New Jersey judge will interrupt a corruption trial June 28 in Newark to hold a bond hearing for the Justice Department’s now-disgraced former star witness, Solomon Dwek, who was recently arrested in Maryland on stolen car charges. More important than the bond conditions, U.S. District Judge José Linares is separately considering whether to permit former Secaucus Mayor Thomas Elwell to call Dwek as defense witness. The judge told Elwell June 27 that he must have substantive questions for Dwek, and not simply call him to discredit him and the government.

Justice Integrity Project, Court Slaps Feds Again For Christie-Era NJ Prosecutions, Andrew Kreig, Feb. 21, 2011.  In a major setback for the U.S. Justice Department and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a federal appeals court last week dismissed federal bribery and conspiracy charges against two New Jersey Democrats targeted in a trap set by Christie. Our non-partisan Justice Integrity Project has repeatedly pointed to the 46-defendant “Bid Rig III” case as one of the nation’s most scandalous political prosecutions of recent years.

Terrence McDonaldJersey Journal, Former Secaucus mayor found guilty of bribery charge, not guilty of two extortion charges, Terrence T. McDonald, left, July 6, 2011. Former Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell was found guilty today on a bribery charge, but was cleared of two extortion counts. Thomas J. Cammarata, one of Elwell's attorneys, said he was confused by the "inconsistent" verdict.

Newark Star-Ledger, Editorial: N.J. needs guidelines for law enforcement agencies to bargain with informants, Editorial Board, July 5, 2011. As the New Jersey ACLU revealed in a report released last month, there are virtually no rules or reliable data on the murky underworld where police officers — often accountable to no one — cut deals with criminals, offering all sorts of unholy incentives for being a snitch. While informants have been valuable law enforcement tools, they come with a price: the integrity of the criminal justice system. Each year, thousands of offenders provide all levels of law enforcement with information in order to save themselves. Sometimes, the information is reliable. Often, it’s not.

Ted Sherman and Josh MargolinJustice Integrity Project, Book ‘Jersey Sting’ On Christie Probes Raises Questions, Andrew Kreig, March 22, 2011. The Jersey Sting is a new book about a major federal corruption case that helped former New Jersey U.S. Attorney Chris Christie win his state’s governorship in 2009. Readers here know that our Justice Integrity Project has documented in multiple columns the unfairness of the controversial 46-defendant case initiated by the Republican Christie. Prosecutions, primarily resulting in guilty pleas but also including an unusually high number of acquittals or pre-trial rulings adverse to the government, have continued vigorously under Christie's successors in an office now led by the Democratic-nominated U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman. Authors Ted Sherman and Josh Margolin, right, are investigative reporters who long worked the Star-Ledger, the state’s largest daily newspaper. St. Martin’s Press, which published the book this month, says, “The Jersey Sting takes you deep inside a one-of-a-kind case, through a narrative fashioned from scores of interviews — both on and off the record — and from thousands of pages of documents, criminal complaints, transcripts of federal wiretaps, court records, and sworn depositions.”  They appeared on the Washington Update radio show on April 7.

Casey Anthony Verdict

Washington Post, Caylee Anthony verdict sparks firestorm on Twitter, Kyle Hightower and Matt Sedensky July 9, 2011. For nearly two months, the murder trial of Casey Anthony was a living entity. It breathed daily across national television airwaves, then was reinforced nightly on cable TV programs that dissected every word uttered in the courtroom and fueled speculation on her fate. When Anthony was acquitted of murder in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, hundreds of thousands of people captivated by the case — and certain of her guilt — poured their rage into postings on Facebook and the micro-blogging site Twitter. Those and other social media sites provided a platform and a large audience for a decibel level of vitriol seldom seen before.

Washington Post,
If Caylee Anthony had been black, would you know her name? Keith L. Alexander, July 8, 2011. If Caylee Anthony had been black, would you know her name? How is it that the tragic death of one little girl could attract so much more attention than the tragic deaths of four sisters? The easy answer is that the disparity in coverage is about race and class. Those differences may have played a part, but there were other reasons that Caylee became a household name and Aja and her sisters did not.

Government Surveillance

FireDogLake, Judge on Suspicionless Laptop Searches & Seizures: Better Off Leaving Devices at Home, Kevin Gosztola, July 9, 2011. A federal judge on Friday heard a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) against the government’s assertion that it has the authority to search, seize and copy laptops, cell phones, cameras and other devices of people at America’s borders even if there is no suspicion of wrongdoing. District Judge Edward Korman weakly defended a person’s right to not be subjected to unreasonable searches or seizures, suggesting, according to Reuters, “Travelers who want to keep U.S. border agents from seeing sensitive documents on their laptops and cell phones may be better off leaving those devices at home.”

Environmental Actions

Associated Press / Huffington Post, BP: Most Gulf Oil Spill Victims Should Not Get Any More Payouts, Kevin McGill, July 8, 2011. BP is arguing that most victims of last year's Gulf oil spill should not get any more payouts for future losses because the hardest-hit areas are recovering and the economy is growing.  The British oil company argues its case in a 29-page document made public Friday and filed with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. The $20 billion fund is responsible for paying for damages from the spill. The company says the fund should end payments for future losses to everyone, except in limited cases for oyster harvesters.