Published in the Westfield Leader, June 26, 2008
[Christie wants to hear about Union County misconduct]
He's Going to Jail July 29, Christie Says of Sharpe James
By HORACE CORBIN
Specially written for the Westfield Leader
WESTFIELD -- U.S. Attorney Chris Christie said, "He's going to jail, July 29" referring to the sentencing of former Newark Mayor, and State Senator, Sharpe James, in an interview last Thursday with publisher, Horace Corbin, of The Westfield Leader and The Scotch Plains-Fanwood Times.
"We're asking for ten to 15-year sentencing from Judge [William] Martini who presides over the case," Mr. Christie said. "That sends a message to all other politicians in New Jersey who think they are untouchable." Unlike in state prison, federal prison inmates are not eligible for parole. 72-year-old James would likely be spending most, if not all, of the remainder of his life in jail. When asked about James' two Silver Cloud Rolls Royce's, yacht andshore estate, and if the taxpayers will ever see any of their money back, Mr. Christie said, "Unlikely. What we've convicted him of is relatively small in the context of what you're talking about."
The 40-minute interview with Mr. Christie can be viewed at goleader.com/video.
For seven years, Mr. Christie has served as U.S. Attorney with his office located in Newark and branches in Trenton and Camden. He said even his mother confuses his job with that of state Attorney General (AG). The U.S. Attorney is appointed by the President of the United States, confirmed by the Senate and is responsible for enforcing federal laws.
The AG is appointed by the Governor of New Jersey and is responsible for enforcing state laws. Mr. Christie said he has a close relationship with recently appointed AG Anne Milgram. They confer once a week. He said she is a true professional and clearly understands the basis of prosecution. They often work together, as exemplified by the James conviction. He publicly admitted to not always having a good relationship with the AG's office, so referring to those formerly in the position, Peter Harvey and Zulima Farber. Mr. Christie said his opinion changed when Stuart Rabner was appointed as AG for one year, and now is Supreme Court chief justice. Mr. Rabner had worked for Mr. Christie in the U.S. Attorney's office.
With a 128-0 record of convicting corrupt public officials, Mr. Christie said he is proud of the accomplishments of his office. When asked why he did not press for more convictions, Mr. Christie said his office prepares a case and when they are absolutely sure they can get a conviction, they present the case to a jury. "An indictment damages a person's reputation, so we want to be sure beyond a reasonable doubt," he said.
Mr. Christie said his office pursues cases regardless of political affiliation, a tactic that helps him to avoid the reputation former governor Eliot Spitzer developed as attorney general in New York, with his aggressive style. Mr. Christie said he does not believe the state has turned the corner yet on the culture of corruption; however, the issue is foremost on many minds.
"Invariable," he said. "We're not going to prosecute our way out of corruption. Given 566 municipalities, 611 school districts, 21 counties and a $35-billion state budget, 128 convictions is a small number. "Still, we've shined a very, very bright light on the problem, and now there is enormous discussion of this at every corner. Six to seven years ago, that was not the case."
About the message getting down to all other levels and special interests, he said, "I really do [think so], but that doesn't mean, I'm not claiming we've changed behavior across the board." He added the U.S. Attorney's office has a "zero tolerance" policy. It takes two to three years to investigate a case and obtain a conviction. With his term coming to an end in a few months, he said we have a `very active' pipeline.
"Anyone who's breaking the law in Union County has to be nervous and beyond that, I will not be making any comment about any particular individuals," Mr. Christie said. Aside from political corruption, his office handles several other matters, such as drugs and organized crime.
One area of particular concern to him is human trafficking what he said is a "terrific tragedy." His office has prosecuted more such crimes than any other office in the country. He said due to New Jersey's diverse culture; criminals from Mexico, Central America, Eastern Europe, Russia and Asia could find a community in the state where they would not be conspicuous in contrast, say to Oklahoma. His office put two women in Federal prison for the next 17 years for the sex enslavement in Plainfield, of four teenage girls from Mexico.
However, his stance on immigration is somewhat different. "Being without proper documentation is not a crime," Mr. Christie said, pointing out the legal difference between illegal immigration and improper documentation. "I don't make the law, I just enforce it." He said someone could have an expired visa and that is not something a person can be arrested for in this country although they could be deported. However, entering the United States illegally and/or having false documents are a crime and one would be subject to arrest.
On criticism he received was from The New York Times over the hiring of John Ashcroft to oversee compliance of five companies that had been paying kickbacks to doctors; Mr. Christie responded that although Mr. Ashcroft may be a controversial, national figure, no one claimed he was unqualified for the job.
He said these five companies, which manufacture artificial hips and knees, have 95 percent of the market. Mr. Christie said the companies were illegally paying doctors to use only their products. He said this practice has been halted, and $511 million have been recovered to Medicare. Medicare pays for two-thirds of hip replacements in the country. He said several doctors involved in this situation are in his "pipeline," and are soon to come out, which he would not comment on at this time. Mr. Christie said he can't comment on his plans after the November Presidential election, and must focus on the duties of his office.
Asked if Presidential candidates Barack Obama or John McCain requested him to stay on, he quipped that it is unlikely that Mr. Obama would give him a call. Regarding Mr. McCain, he said it would be very difficult to turn down a request from a President, but he could only imagine the conversation that this would generate with his wife.
He advised the press to be diligent, and urged citizens to attend meetings, protest against faulty government and campaign against elected officials that break their promises. "Throw them out," he said.
Further, he said he knows it is possible for citizens in any town in to have a direct impact. When he lived in Westfield early in his marriage, he said he witnessed door-to-door citizen campaigns.
He asked anyone with a complaint of government or suspecting wrong-doing to call him in Newark at (973) 645-2700; or if they prefer, call the FBI in Newark at (973) 792-3000. He said he has e-mail but prefers to talk to people directly. He said they need not be concerned and he doesn't record his phone calls. "I'm here to serve you, the public."
He said he's "incredibly flattered" to be mentioned as a candidate for Governor next year, but said it is presumptuous for him to even consider it at this time.
Mr. Christie was born in Newark and raised in Livingston where he became friends with Senator Tom Kean, Jr., now of Westfield. Mr. Christie lives with his family today in Mendham.
Next year, for the first time in history, New Jersey will also choose a Lieutenant Governor. Mr. Corbin posed, "Could it be 'Christie and Kean, Perfect Together'?"
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- Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.