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Feds Open Criminal Probe of Christie Over Quashed Corruption Indictments

By    |   Thursday, 05 Feb 2015 06:39 PM

Federal law enforcement officials have launched a criminal investigation of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and members of his administration for overturning grand jury corruption indictments against Christie supporters, International Business Times reports.

The probe stems from charges leveled by fired local prosecutor Bennett Barlyn, who filed a whistleblower lawsuit claiming he was punished for objecting to the abrupt dismissal of the indictments.

Barlyn told IBTimes two criminal investigators from the Department of Justice interviewed him at his Pennsylvania home for more than an hour Wednesday.

Fired in 2010 from the Hunterdon County prosecutor's office, Barlyn told IBTimes the investigators zeroed in on why Christie’s then-attorney general, Paula Dow, had moved to expunge the indictments – and what state and federal laws may have been broken in the process.

Also, Barlyn said an investigator asked him about an allegation in his whistleblower lawsuit that former Hunterdon County Undersheriff Michael Russo told a reporter Christie would step in and "have this whole thing thrown out" after Russo was accused of misconduct and indicted in 2010.

Russo has denied making the statement, and Christie has denied any involvement in the dropping of the indictment.

Barlyn told IBTimes the inquiry appears to be at an exploratory stage.

The case – first reported by The New York Times in 2013 – comes as Christie's possible run for the White House in 2016 appears to be stumbling.

And it's the second potential scandal to dog the tough-talking governor; he also fought allegations he had anything to do with the closing of traffic lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge as political retribution.

Barlyn reached out last April to New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, whose office is also investigating the Bridgegate scandal.

Fishman wrote back to Barlyn in June, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press, saying, "It is not apparent on the face of your submission that there have been potential violations of federal criminal law warranting this office's review."

Fishman directed Barlyn to contact one of the office's investigators "to further assess whether your allegations may implicate such statutes."

Barlyn said the investigator who met with him asked about New Jersey's official misconduct statutes and whether there were corresponding federal statutes.

Christie's office didn't respond to a request for comment but in 2012 denied any involvement in the case.

"This is conspiracy theory stuff from someone who is obviously casting a wide net with hopes of coming up with a big fish or something," Christie's spokesman Michael Drewniak said at the time. "It's nonsense."

According to IBTimes, Barlyn's claims center on his charge that Deborah Trout, who was county sheriff, hired her friends – no matter what their experience – without proper background checks.

Barlyn’s office began investigating Trout in 2008, eventually convening a grand jury that returned 43 indictments against her and others. But the Christie administration intervened, taking over the prosecution and ultimately moving to have the grand jury indictments overturned for legal and factual deficiencies, IBTimes reports.

When Barlyn raised objections, he was fired.

Barlyn told IBTimes he gave the federal investigators a thumb drive containing documents he "considers to be critical evidence" of criminal misconduct.

"Based on all the evidence, the reasons given by the Christie administration to throw these charges out against the governor's allies were deliberately intended to mislead the judge," Barlyn told IBTimes.

"The transcripts from the grand jury proceedings prove that the Christie administration deceived the court to stop the prosecution, which is the definition of obstructing justice," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Federal law enforcement officials have launched a criminal investigation of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and members of his administration for overturning grand jury corruption indictments against Christie supporters, International Business Times reports.
federal, prosecutor, criminal, probe, chris christie, indictments
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2015-39-05
Thursday, 05 Feb 2015 06:39 PM
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