U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell today became the second New Jersey congressman to effectively criticize U.S. Attorney Chris Christie’s selection of a company led by his old boss, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, that could earn up to $52 million by overseeing a company that made a huge settlement with the government.
Pascrell called on the House Judiciary Committee to examine deferred prosecution agreements, which the company, Zimmer Holdings, entered into after agreeing to a $311 million settlement and to hire federal monitors after it was charged with paying kickbacks to surgeons to promote its knee and hip replacement. In this case, that monitor is Ashcroft’s consulting firm.
In a letter addressed to Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and Chairwoman Linda Sanchez, Pascrell said that he is concerned about the concept of deferred prosecutions.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office has the authority to bring the full weight of the federal government upon those individuals and parties whom they consider under suspicion of federal law,” wrote Pascrell. “Therefore, it is clear that the necessary supervision must occur through the federal government, especially by the Congress, to ensure that no abuse of power can occur unchecked.”
Pascrell said that his concern came about form a Star-Ledger story from last week detailing the selection of Ashcroft’s firm as the monitor. He went on to say that the lack of transparency in the process of appointing the monitors was alarming, and questioned whether the U.S. Attorney should be able to select them without oversight.
“Under the continued threat of prosecution, any party being investigated seemingly has little choice but to agree to the selection of these federal monitors and their exorbitant fees,” wrote Pascrell. “Therein the selection of these federal monitors by the U.S. Attorney’s Office could give the impression of impropriety and political favoritism.”
Last week, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone wrote a letter to Christie that was critical of his selection of Ashcroft, saying that his free reign to select federal monitors was troubling.
Christie Spokesman Michael Drewniak deferred to the Justice Department's Executive Office.