New Jersey’s top federal prosecutor has offered a scathing critique of the way the state Attorney General’s Office handled a political corruption investigation that included secretly recorded conversations with South Jersey Democratic Party kingpin George E. Norcross III.
Alluding to the “protection of political figures and the manipulation of evidence,” U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie said the state had botched its four-year probe of JCA Associates, a now-defunct engineering firm with ties to Norcross.
But after a 10-month review of the case, Christie said, his office will not take up the investigation into allegations of bribery and extortion. In essence, he said the Attorney General’s Office had so muddied the waters that “it would be inappropriate to initiate a federal prosecution.”
Christie’s comments were contained in a letter sent Tuesday to acting New Jersey Attorney General Nancy Kaplan, who took over after Peter Harvey stepped down this month.
A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said that the letter was being reviewed and that he would not comment.
Christie said the state’s probe, which began in December 2000, “was materially hampered by poor oversight, inexplicable strategic decisions, and a failure to fully develop potential evidence.”
His comments were aimed at the offices of former Attorneys General John Farmer, a Republican, and David Samson and Harvey, both Democrats.
Some of Christie’s harshest criticism was directed at the way Farmer’s office handled the early stages of the investigation. Like Farmer, Christie is a Republican appointee.
He said the “integrity of the investigation” was undermined by the office’s “illogical approach” to the probe, which lent itself “to a number of damaging inferences, including the protection of political figures and the manipulation of evidence.”
The JCA case, which resulted in minor tax charges against three JCA officials, has been a hot-button item in political and governmental circles for five years.
Norcross has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but his name has been consistently tied to the probe. He has insisted that the allegations of corruption are without foundation and part of a ploy by two disgruntled political opponents, Palmyra Mayor John Gural and Moorestown lawyer Ted Rosenberg, to discredit him.
William Tambussi, a lawyer for Norcross, said yesterday that Christie’s assessment reinforced that position.
“Christie had ample opportunity to say that a crime had been committed, and he did not,” said Tambussi, who said the federal prosecutor instead had detailed an “unholy alliance between state investigators and Rosenberg and Gural . . . to get George Norcross at any and all costs.”
Among other things, Christie referred to a “conflicted relationship” that blurred the roles of Gural and Rosenberg, who were “initially treated as investigative partners” rather than witnesses.
The case included secretly recorded conversations that Gural made for the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice between December 2000 and February 2001, after he alleged that JCA officials had pressured him not to reappoint Rosenberg as solicitor in Palmyra.
Gural was a JCA employee. Rosenberg had fallen out of favor with Norcross, and Gural alleged that his bosses at JCA, in currying favor with Norcross to steer government contracts their way, wanted to scuttle Rosenberg’s reappointment.
In a statement yesterday, Rosenberg and Gural said Christie’s findings “in no way exonerate the culpable parties.”
“The bottom line is that once again in New Jersey politically connected individuals have escaped punishment . . . with the complicity of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.”
In his six-page letter, Christie detailed shortcomings in prosecutors and investigators.
Among other things, he pointed out that they “never sought a court-ordered wiretap,” even though the alleged conspiracy being investigated “was executed primarily over the telephone.”
He said Gural had been encouraged to record many meaningless conversations with “innocent third parties.” Yet, he said, when Gural offered to record conversations at “a political function” with “individuals directly associated with the case,” he was denied permission because of the risk of recording innocent third parties.
Finally, Christie blasted an agreement, negotiated in 2003 by Harvey’s office, that promised JCA president Mark Neisser, director of marketing Henry Chudzinski, and chief financial officer William Vukoder probation in exchange for their cooperation and guilty pleas to minor tax offenses unrelated to the Palmyra allegations.
Christie said the Attorney General’s Office had approved these “charitable agreements before the defendants had provided any information regarding the full scope of their criminal activity or any information about potential coconspirators.”
“Not surprisingly,” he added, the defendants then “provided no valuable information.”
Contact staff writer George Anastasia at 856-779-3846 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inquirer staff writer Jennifer Moroz contributed to this article.