NJ corruption probe target says case is tainted

Former New Jersey assemblyman Louis Manzo is walked Thursday, July 23, 2009, in Newark, N.J., to a waiting bus outside FBI offices after being arrested earlier Thursday.

March 15, 2010 3:09:22 PM PDT
A defendant in the state's largest corruption probe is alleging that the investigation and dramatically staged arrests were engineered by then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie to boost his campaign for governor. Former Assemblyman Louis Manzo, who ran unsuccessfully for Jersey City mayor, held a news conference Monday to denounce the conduct of the U.S. attorney's office and other agencies.

"I think it's obvious, when you connect the dots, there was an attempt to use a government sting as an effort to help Christie's election to the governor of New Jersey," Manzo said.

Manzo, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit extortion, was among 44 people arrested in July in a two-track investigation into political corruption and money laundering.

He said the due process rights of the defendants have been violated by the overt politicization of the case, arguing that prosecutors, Christie loyalists and other officials flouted Department of Justice policy and federal laws by making contributions to Christie's successful gubernatorial campaign, receiving job promises and keeping Christie informed about the investigation after he had stepped down as U.S. attorney.

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak dismissed Manzo's claims as "deluded."

"He appears to be just another official in New Jersey charged with corruption who wants to divert attention from his own conduct," Drewniak said.

Manzo isn't the first to raise allegations that the probe was politically motivated. Several defense attorneys have pointed to the fact that most of the public officials arrested in July were Democrats, and the probe was initially overseen by Christie, a Republican who had previously made a name for himself as a corruption-busting prosecutor during the administration of former President George W. Bush.

Christie became governor Jan. 19, following Democrat Jon Corzine.

Manzo also questioned the government's heavy reliance on a cooperating witness who posed as a developer looking to exchange campaign contributions and cash bribes for building approvals. He said the hundreds of thousands of dollars that federal agents supplied the witness to use as bribe money was enough to potentially sway electoral outcomes in Hoboken and Jersey City.

Manzo said that action disenfranchised voters and violated constitutional law through the illicit involvement of federal officials in a sovereign state election.

"Due process," he said, "was kicked to the curb throughout the whole process."