Governor Chris Christie faces a criminal investigation over allegations that he obstructed justice to help some of his political allies, and fired a state prosecutor for complaining about the situation. The new investigation, coupled with the now famous bridge closure incident, may jeopardize the political future of the potential 2016 presidential candidate.
Bennett Barlyn, a former prosecutor with the Hunterdon County office, filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against the Christie administration and local law-enforcement officials, leveling a variety of corruption charges shortly after his termination in August, 2010. Now, the International Business Times reports that the Justice Department is picking up those charges in a criminal investigation.
According to Barlyn, the Chris Christie administration obstructed justice for his friends like this.
First, Barlyn’s Hunterdon County prosecutor’s office began investigating then-Sheriff Deborah Trout in 2008. A grand jury for the case indicted Trout, her Undersheriff Michael Russo, and local investigator John Falat, Jr., on 43 counts. Barlyn claims Trout was using the office as her own private kingdom, hiring her friends regardless of past experience and without proper background checks.
At that point, Chris Christie’s administration stepped in.
Christie’s then-Attorney General, Paula Dow, overturned all 43 of the grand jury’s indictments, despite what many of the jurists claim was “strong evidence.”
When Barlyn started to raise objections, he was fired.
He told ABC News about some of the signs of corruption before his dismissal, saying that all the information obtained from the two-year investigation was “suddenly shipped back to [the state capital] Trenton… physically taken out of our office and taken to the attorney general’s office.”
A situation the former prosecutor for 18-years described as “highly unusual.”
He added, “the head of our special investigations unit who was heading the investigation was very abruptly taken off the case two weeks before the dismissal.”
He also insists that there is photographic evidence linking Chris Christie to those people who were under investigation.
Chris Christie insists that he has never recalled meeting or talking with a “single one of these oddball characters,” according to a spokesman for the governor.
A claim that might be both true and irrelevant.
The initial investigation of Trout reportedly involved an embarrassing connection to Robert Hariri, an executive at the pharmaceutical giant Celgene. Hariri is a man Christie knows quite well. He was a major campaign donor to Chris Christie, and he was a key member of the administration’s transition team.
Likewise, Celgene employs Christie’s former chief of staff, Richard Bagger.
The investigation on Trout turned up evidence that Hariri obtained a fake police clearance, after flying Undersheriff Russo on his private jet to an event in Washington.
According to the Guardian, when Barlyn first filed the lawsuit, Christie’s spokesman, Michael Drewniak, said, “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. It’s nonsense.”
Now, the administration is silent, giving no comment to the International Business Times, which first broke the story.
The “nonsense,” coupled with the now famous bridge closure scandal, threatens the political future of Chris Christie, although formal charges have not yet been leveled.
[Image Credit: Luigi Novi/Wikimedia Commons]