CONGRESS COULD ISSUE SUBPOENAS, HOLD HEARINGS
In a direct communication with U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey today, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee requested details of federal monitor contracts negotiated by New Jersey’s United States Attorney, Christopher J. Christie, and said that if documents are not turned over to them quickly, they could issue subpoenas to obtain them, according to a source with knowledge of the Judiciary panels actions.
And House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers says he is likely to hold hearings on the need for federal oversight of deferred prosecution agreements.
Christie, a leading candidate for the 2009 Republican nomination for Governor, awarded former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft a federal monitor contract worth up to $52 million over the next eighteen months, and has given out lucrative contracts to several other politically connected lawyers, according to published reports.
The New York Times reported today that the Justice Department is conducting an internal review of deferred prosecution agreements, though a spokesman for the department said the Justice Department has been having ongoing discussions about the selection of federal monitors for several months and was not prompted by reports of Christie’s deal with Ashcroft, according to Peter A. Carr, a spokesman for the Department of Justice in Washington.
“There is no inquiry into that selection. Likewise, the consideration of guidance was not prompted by the actions of any U.S. Attorney,” Carr said in a statement released today.
In a letter to Mukasey, Conyers chastised the Justice Department for failing to respond to letters from at least two Congressmen,and said that a report in today’s New York Times “reinforces a concern over the lack of real oversight and transparency of deferred prosecution agreements.”
“These agreements, which directly affect billions of dollars in corporate business as well as the livelihoods of millions of Americans employed by these corporations, have been completely shielded from review by either the Legislative or Judicial branches of the government,” Conyers wrote in a letter also signed by Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law Chairwoman Linda Sanchez, and Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. of New Jersey.
The congressional leaders said that they were “interested to read” that the Department of Justice is “quietly conducting an internal inquiry into the Department’s procedures for selecting outside monitors and that this inquiry is likely to result in formal guidelines over the selection of these monitors.”
“While guidelines are clearly necessary, we would be troubled if the Department moved forward on this endeavor without any congressional input or examination and would concentrate on only one problematic aspect of deferred prosecution agreements,” wrote Conyers, Sanchez, and Pascrell. “Clearly, these agreements suffer from a number of deficiencies. We need robust formal guidelines that spell out the parameters of deferred prosecution agreements and we call upon your office to work with Congress in crafting real protocols and shedding light upon the practice of deferred prosecution agreements.”
The House Democrats noted that the Justice Department “has seemingly released no information on deferred prosecution agreements to the public. In fact, no current guidelines exist for the release of any information to the public connected to these agreements” and pointed to a study that found the number of deferred prosecution agreements between the Justice Department and corporations grew from five in 2003 to 25 this year.
“We ask that you fully disclose to the House Judiciary Committee all information relating to these agreements dating back to January 20, 2003 when Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson first issued a Department memorandum instructing federal prosecutors to seek deferred prosecution agreements,” the Congressmen wrote. “This disclosure of information is vital for Congress to obtain a clear understanding of deferred prosecution agreements and how they have been applied.”
A deadline of January 25 was set.
Conyers said his committee is “working in concert toward creating congressional oversight of deferred prosecution agreements, which includes the likelihood of hearings being held by the House Judiciary Committee.”
“It is our hope that you will take this occasion to scrutinize the practice of deferred prosecution agreements instead of trying to shield this practice from congressional examination, the congressmen wrote.
In addition to Ashcroft, Christie has awarded other federal monitor contracts dealing with settlements from other medical supply companies to two former federal prosecutors, David Kelley and Debra Wong Yang, and to former New Jersey Attorney General David Samson, a Republican. In 2005, Kelly, as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, prosecuted twenty stockbrokers for insider trading that included Christie’s brother. While fifteen faced criminal prosecution – none were eventually convicted — Todd Christie was only charged in a civil complaint.
Herbert Stern, a former U.S. Attorney and federal Judge from New Jersey, and his law partner, John Inglesino, who was until this month a Republican elected official in Morris County, earned over $8 million as the monitors of a deferred prosecution agreement with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
Citing apolicy that questions to prosecutors regarding a federal inquiry must be referred to the Justice Department, Christie’s office declined to address discussions between the Senate and House Judiciary Committees and Mukasey’s office.
“Thisis just going to be a no comment from us,” said Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney.