Former state Assemblyman Louis Manzo, at a press conference in Jersey City on Monday, blasted the federal government’s July 2009 corruption probe that resulted in the arrests of many local politicians. He claimed it was tainted by misconduct from prosecutors involved in his case and charged that the probe was an effort to get former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie elected governor.
Christie had resigned as the U.S. attorney in December of 2008 to kick off his Republican gubernatorial campaign. Eight months later, the U.S. attorney’s office, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra, sent FBI agents to arrest 44 New Jersey political officials and religious leaders as a result of nearly two-year investigation into bribery and corruption.
“Though they do, they can never, ever deny the truth of the message.” – Louis Manzo
Christie was elected governor four months later.
Manzo was arrested on July 23, 2009 as the part of the sting. Manzo and his brother Ronald were both charged and then indicted for allegedly accepting $27,500 in cash payments from government informant Solomon Dwek, in exchange for Manzo’s official assistance on development matters once he became mayor. Manzo and his brother both pleaded not guilty and he expects to go to trial in the summer.
Reaction last week
Manzo said two days after Monday’s press conference that he has gotten nothing but support from friends and family, although he admitted that some loved ones had tried to talk him out of doing the press conference.
He also said that he has been approached by a producer from the CBS news show “60 Minutes” about looking at the information he collected.
Downtown City Councilman Steven Fulop, who had supported Manzo for state senator in 2007, declined to comment on Manzo’s remarks when asked for a reaction last week.
Longtime downtown resident and City Hall watchdog Yvonne Balcer was willing to comment, though. She has known Manzo since the late 1980s.
“I kind of agree with him; there’s an element of truth to what he was saying,” Balcer said. “That’s not saying [that of] the people who were arrested, what they did was right.”
Balcer cited comments and reports noting that Christie had benefited from the arrests during his gubernatorial campaign. The corruption was tied to the Democrats.
The press conference
At Monday’s press conference, Manzo took to task the assistant U.S. attorneys prosecuting his case and others. He said they ran afoul of federal law with actions such as donating to Christie’s campaign. The investigation ultimately ended up helping the campaign too, as it attached corruption to the Democrats.
Many of the prosecutors also were hired for jobs in Christie's administration, he said.
"It is shameful that this once great symbol of law and order has denigrated into the characteristics of a political ward club," Manzo said.
Manzo called for an investigation of the attorneys by the federal government. Manzo said he filed a motion of misconduct regarding the attorneys with U.S. District Judge Jose Linares in January. He said he will be in court on Monday for a hearing on the matter.
It didn’t take long for a response to Manzo’s comments. Christie’s spokesperson Michael Drewniak (who was also Christie’s spokesman while at U.S. attorney’s office), offered a scathing rebuttal to Manzo’s charges. Drewniak, not a lawyer, also contributed $100 to Christie’s campaign.
“My gut response is that he's deluded, but on further thought, he appears to be just another ex-official in New Jersey charged with corruption who wants to divert attention from his own conduct,” Drewniak said. “I think you need to consider the source.”
Current U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, who has Christie’s old job, also responded to Manzo’s statements.
“Mr. Manzo can rehash any allegations he wants but the office stands behind his indictment,”
Fishman said. “And the charges against him will be resolved in court.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Manual states Justice Department employees may not “use their official authority to interfere with or affect the result of an election.” Manzo cited this law along with other restrictions in the manual to buttress his case that the prosecution was politically motivated
When asked if he took a big risk going public with his allegations, Manzo said at Monday’s press conference that “I don’t care” when it came to his legal situation, and said he was more concerned with the others arrested who were hurt by the sting and the impact upon their cases.
“I know that some in [the U.S. Attorney’s Office], because of my predicament, will react to my actions today with a ‘kill the messenger’ response,” Manzo said. “Though they do, they can never, ever deny the truth of the message.”
Manzo charged that the U.S. attorneys working for Christie had donated to Christie’s campaign while maintaining contact with their former boss by interviewing in his cabinet during the prosecution of the investigation, known as Bid Rig III.
In state election donation reports collected by Manzo, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Gramiccioni donated a total of $500 to Christie’s campaign for governor. Manzo cited Gramiccioni as the person handling his case. Grammiccioni’s wife Deborah, also a U.S. attorney, got a job as the state’s Chief of Commercial Crimes Unit after Christie’s election. Meanwhile, her husband is still an Assistant U.S. Attorney.
Another attorney was Charles McKenna, who worked in the U.S. attorney’s office as the chief of the Criminal Division, which oversaw the Bid Rig III investigation. McKenna is shown as having donated $1,500 to Christie’s campaign. He is now the director of the state’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.