US Attorney Chris Christie has made a name for himself as the only prosecutor in the state who has taken on public corruption, largely because he repeatedly made the claim and the media printed it without checking.
This has been an extremely helpful theme for him, portraying himself as the lone gunman out to get the bad guys against a corrupt and weak establishment. It works even better for this Republican prosecutor as the establishment is Democratic, since anyone who complains about Christie’s tactics is immediately beaten down with Lonely Knight on a White Horse illusions. Even some Democrats out there, and some of our commenters on this site, treat Christie as if he is the one true king come to save us all from public corruption.
No one can deny that Christie’s office is doing an excellent job of nailing corrupt pols. It started before Christie with the FBI investigating Jim Treffinger and Monmouth County corruption, two major investigations into Republicans Christie inherited but has used to bolster his bi-partisan armor. To his credit, Christie has directed his teams — prosecutorial and investigative — to continue the effort.
But Christie has taken a particular glee in the fight, and used his bully pulpit excessively to promote himself, support members of his own party, and attack others. Some of us consider it unseemly and borderline misuse of office, others consider it his due to beat his chest after vanquishing opponents.
But one major piece of his puzzle — that he has been alone from the start — appears to be a myth. Christie’s favorite target was Peter Harvey, who by all accounts wasn’t a terribly good AG, for never doing anything to take on corrupt public officials.
But is that true? Our investigation suggests it is not, and in fact is a gross misstatement of fact.
The fact is that there were 41 convictions [see all here] of public corruption under Peter Harvey, who started in February 2003 and left in June 2006. Many of these were small fry, as many of Chris Christie’s have been. However, there were also:
- Hainesport Mayor and CFO for embezzling $339,000;
- NJ Division of Taxation official Michael Johnson for stealing $81,000 in public money;
- Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Imreveduto for misuse of campaign funds was kicked out of office;
- Democratic Atlantic City Councilman Marty Small for tampering with election ballots;
- Commerce Commission Chief of Staff Lesly Devereau for corruption and criminal conspiracy;
- NJ Transit general manager and vice president Maureen Milan for taking bribes;
- Many, many, many motor vehicle commission officials for selling false licenses to illegal aliens.
That’s 41 in just over three years for Harvey, while Christie boasts repeated — and his media friends repeat — that he now has 120 in six years. We found a total of 62 public corruption convictions from the AG’s office since 2003, and there are more before that but the AG’s website doesn’t list them. So, it is true that Christie has a larger number and some higher profile corruption cases, but there is a good reason for that.
Chris Christie is the only United States Attorney in New Jersey. If there is going to be a case of corruption brought under federal law in this state it is going to be brought by the US Attorney, who since 2002 was Chris Christie.
The New Jersey Attorney General is only one of many prosecuting agencies in the state, but in addition to the Attorney General each county has it’s own prosecutor with his or her own investigative team. Most cases of local and county officials violations of state law are brought to court under the county prosecutor’s office.
These have brought significantly more cases to the fore. A short review of just a couple county prosecutor web sites — which are really weak — found another 9 cases in the past couple years. Since there are 21 county prosecutors, that adds up to quite a few other prosecutions.
We can’t say for sure, but are pretty willing to bet that there are far more than 120 public corruption convictions brought by state and county officials over the past seven years. All the 21 county prosecutors would need is three and a half each over those six years to reach that number. Seriously, does anyone doubt that there weren’t that many? In relatively quiet Somerset County there were two Mayors forced to resign after convictions, the son of the Freeholder’s Chief Clerk caught stealing from county property, a police officer nailed for stealing airline miles, and the recent park scandal.
So it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that prosecutors appointed by the Governor (AG and county prosecutors) have nailed more corrupt public officials and employees than the US Attorney’s office. Yet the myth of the Lone Anti-Corruption Knight Templar Chris Christie continues.
A good bit of this comes from the fact that Peter Harvey was largely incompetent and screwed up some high-profile cases, and was himself caught in unethical though not illegal situations. Further, Christie and Harvey had a massive personality conflict that caused the two to go after each other quite often.
But the “accepted wisdom” that came out of these facts is sorely mistaken, no matter how often reporters, editors and columnists repeat it.
There is a massive corruption issue in New Jersey, one that is being addressed at all levels. Christie is not the sole fighter in the battle, but simply the loudest and most noticeable.