Feds Fight To Uphold Christie-era Jersey Charges

By Andrew Kreig / Project Director's Blog

New Jersey federal prosecutors last week won court permission for a new 30-day delay to check with Washington headquarters on whether to give up their so-far unsuccessful effort to expand federal bribery law by courtroom maneuvers instead of congressional action. The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals granted a second grace period for prosecutors who are trying to calculate their odds of success if they ask the full appeals court to overturn a unanimous three-judge ruling in February. The ruling vacated charges filed nearly two years ago against former Jersey City mayoral candidate Louis Manzo and his brother and campaign manager, Ronald Manzo.

“The time for the U.S. attorney’s office to check with Washington,” Louis Manzo, at right, told the Justice Integrity Project April 2, “was before they brought the case, not as an after-thought when the case was dismissed. Our evidence indicates that the government camouflaged the election activity and the fact that candidates – not public officials – were being targeted. Had they not screwed up their protocol, they and we might not be in this predicament now.”

The three judges ruled in February that Hobbs Act bribery law for many years has covered only officials, not candidates. As our Project reported in, Court Slaps Feds Again For Christie-Era NJ Prosecutions, Republican former New Jersey U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, left, initiated the sting against primarily Democratic local politicians in a 46-defendant Bid Rig III case before he left office at the end of 2008. Christie’s successors moved forward with the cases in July 2009, relying heavily on since discredited witness Solomon Dwek. The indictments helped Christies win New Jersey’s governorship as a corruption-fighter and in the process helped top prosecutors win jobs for themselves in his administration.

But the trial judge for the Manzo brothers ruled last spring that longstanding federal law requires that bribery law applies to officials not candidates. The Manzos claim that the money offered by a federal informant was campaign donations, whereas the government characterizes it as bribery. The government’s definition is accepted as accurate for pre-trial pleadings. Even so, the Republican-appointed U.S. District Judge Jose Linares threw out the charges. So did the three-judge panel, which was comprised of two Democrats and one Republican.

In reporting last week's developments April 2, Jersey Journal columnist Agustin C. Torres quoted an excerpt from the petition: "The District of New Jersey has submitted all its materials to the Department of Justice in Washington and is now awaiting a decision from the Office of the Solicitor General, whose authorization is required for the filing of any petitions for rehearing en banc (full court)...."

In response, the former candidate Manzo quoted extensively from the Justice Department documents to suggest that his prosecutors skipped key review steps with DOJ’s Washington headquarters that are required before filing charges. Manzo said:

First and foremost, the United States Attorney Manual 9-85.210 states, "Consultation with the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division is required in all federal criminal matters that focus on violations of federal or state campaign financing laws, federal patronage crimes, and corruption of the election process."

Chapter Three of the guidebook used by the Public Integrity Section and posted on their website – Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses, Seventh Edition, by Craig C. Donsanto – states, "United States Attorneys’ Offices must consult the Public Integrity Section before instituting grand jury proceedings, filing an information, or seeking an indictment that charges patronage crimes. USAM § 9-85.210. As with election fraud matters, these consultation requirements are intended to assist federal prosecutors in this area and to ensure nationwide uniformity in the enforcement of these criminal patronage statutes."

The USAM Criminal Resource Manual 2404  – The Hobbs Act, states "The Public Integrity Section possesses considerable expertise in using the Hobbs Act to prosecute public corruption. While not required, AUSAs are strongly urged to consult with the Public Integrity Section in the investigation and prosecution of corruption cases under this statutory theory. Public Integrity can be reached at 202-514-1412, or by fax at 202-514-3003."

Nonetheless, the Obama Justice Department under U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, right, has so far fought doggedly to maintain the Manzo prosecutions as well as the convictions already won against other candidate-only defendants in the sting who gave up early under pressure and pleaded guilty. All those New Jersey convictions are in jeopardy if the appeals court ruling stands. But an adverse decision by the full court would help establish even greater precedent against the government’s effort to expand its powers without going to Congress for authorization.

The DOJ’s efforts to sustain prior convictions won by previous administrations is normal, of course, despite the department’s oft-quoted mantra that its goal ensure justice not its own victory. But Obama administration’s vindication of Bush-era political prosecutions (with the notable exceptions of cases against Republicans Ted Stevens and James Tobin) has an usual history following revelations in the U.S. attorney political purge scandal in 2006. That unprecedented purge to create a higher percentage of what then-chief of staff Kyle Sampson called “loyal Bushies” in the powerful regional posts left in place those prosecutors like Christie.

In reporting on the latest developments, the Jersey Journal columnist Torres described as the most interesting part of the government’s statement seeking further delay as its “soliciting the views of different United States Attorney's Offices and Departments throughout the country, which is a time-consuming process...."

“There are many ways to go here to comment,” the columnist concluded. ”Let's just say it sounds like the quarterback is scrambling.”

 

Listed below are selected articles on legal reform, with the most important political, security and media factors. See the full articles by visiting the Project home page's section on News Reports, and clicking the link.

Jersey Journal /NJ.com, And a time for every purpose, Agustin C. Torres, April 2, 2011. As predicted, the U.S. Attorney's Office filed a petition and was granted permission by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals for a second 30 days, ending May 4, to decide whether to request an appeal, before the entire panel, of U.S. District Judge Jose Linares' ruling that knocked off extortion charges against brothers Louis and Ronald Manzo. The Manzos still face bribery and mail fraud charges.

Privacy Invasions

Fed Smith, Should the Use of Advanced Imaging Machines be Restricted? Two Congressmen Think So, Ian Smith, March 31, 2011. Today, Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced legislation (HR 1279) addressing Whole-Body Imaging machines, now referred to as Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines. Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ) joined Congressman Chaffetz in sponsoring the legislation. The legislation was introduced in response to health and privacy concerns that have been raised surrounding use of the machines. To say the least, the AIT machines have been controversial.  There have been concerns about the potential privacy issues with the images that come from the machines, and more recently questions as to the radiation levels associated with the machines have surfaced. The TSA maintains that they are safe, and a recent study would seem to confirm that, but undoubtedly some skepticism remains.

Daily Northwestern, David Protess to take leave of absence from NU in spring; Protess to launch 'autonomous Innocence Project,' says 'future plans are indefinite,' Brian Rosenthal, March 29, 2011. Two weeks after being told he will not be allowed to teach his Investigative Journalism class in the spring, 29-year Medill Prof. David Protess announced Tuesday he will leave Northwestern for the quarter. Protess, the high-profile director of the Medill Innocence Project, will use personal leave, which he is entitled to as a University professor, to "establish a nonprofit organization devoted to investigative reporting of criminal justice issues," according to a statement.

Other Civil Rights

Salon / Unclaimed Territory, The most uncounted cost of Endless War, Glenn Greenwald, April 4, 2011. Harry ReidHarry Reid and Lindsey Graham yesterday both suggested that Congress take unspecified though formal action against the Koran-burning by Florida preacher Terry Jones, which triggered days of violence this week by angry Muslims in Afghanistan. This event demonstrates one of the most uncounted (though one of the most intended) costs of our posture of Endless War: the way it is exploited to endlessly erode core liberties.

 

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