Payback time? In 2002, Christie helped DiVincenzo with a golden letter

An event in Essex County today honoring former U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie has several top Democrats seething as the soon-to-be Republican gubernatorial candidate makes his first public appearance since leaving office at 12:01 this morning at a tribute planned by Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and Sheriff Armando Fontoura, both Democrats. The potential love fest could be viewed as a shot at Jon Corzine, the Democratic Governor who could face Christie in the 2009 election.

One Democratic Essex County mayor, who asked that his name be withheld, suggested that the event is payback for a huge favor Christie did for DiVincenzo during the final days of DiVincenzo’s rancorous 2002 Democratic County Executive primary against Thomas Giblin, which was occurring two months after a raid on the offices of the Republican incumbent, James Treffinger. There had been rumors that DiVincenzo, then the Freeholder Board President, was the target of a federal probe. Christie ended the speculation with a two-sentence letter confirming that DiVincenzo was “not a subject or target of the grand jury investigation.”

“Now it is indisputable that I am not the focus of any federal inquiry,” DiVincenzo said in a written statement released by his campaign. “The U.S. Attorney’s letter should serve as notice to Tom Giblin to end his reckless and libelous campaign.”

A lawyer for the DiVincenzo campaign asked Christie to weigh in, according to a PolitickerNJ.com 2002 report. “Joe was fed up with constant red herrings and misrepresentations that the Giblin team was putting out. A decision was made to clear the air with the U.S. Attorney,” said Frank Giantomasi, DiVincenzo’s attorney. “The level of negativity was so high that it led us to call the U.S. Attorney’s office for clarity, and clarity has been issued by the United States Attorney, and I don’t think anybody should interpret that letter. It speaks for itself, and I think it is very clear.

“This campaign has sunk to the lowest depths of scandalizing political candidates that I can think of. That resulted in our request,” Giantomasi explained at the time.

DiVincenzo and Fontoura will be joined by Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney under Christie, and members of the Essex County Police Chiefs Association.

“Join us as we honor a friend of Essex County,” was the headline of invitation issued again this morning by DiVincenzo, who said Christie will be the special guest at an “afternoon salute” for “working with Essex County to ensure an open and ethical government, for presenting programs about the meaning of public service and ethics in government for the County’s executive staff and for being a valuable resource for local law enforcement agencies.”

The press release did not say if DiVincenzo Deputy Chief of Staff, State Sen. Theresa Ruiz (D-Newark) will be in attendance. Ruiz has been mentioned by some Democratic officials as a possible candidate for Lt. Governor on Corzine’s ticket next year.

Read the PolitickerNJ.com story from May 28, 2002:

DiVincenzo, Giblin spar over U.S. Attorney letter; James endorses DiVincenzo

By BRIAN P. MURPHY
PoliticsNJ.com

NEWARK, May 28 – The two Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for Essex County Executive in next week’s primary continue to trade barbs over a letter by the United States Attorney saying that Freeholder President Joseph DiVincenzo was not a target of the federal grand jury investigation into corruption in the Essex County government.

The race has been a particularly pernicious, but Newark Mayor Sharpe James, at a City Hall news conference called to formally announce his endorsement of DiVincenzo, predicted Essex Democrats will have unity for the general election. “I think that by November we’ll all be one big happy family,” James said.

On Friday, U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie sent a two-sentence letter to DiVincenzo’s personal attorney, Nicholas Grieco, saying that the Freeholder “is not a subject or target of the grand jury investigation.”

“Now it is indisputable that I am not the focus of any federal inquiry,” DiVincenzo said in a written statement released by his campaign. “The U.S. Attorney’s letter should serve as notice to Tom Giblin to end his reckless and libelous campaign.”

A lawyer for the DiVincenzo campaign asked Christie to weigh in. “Joe was fed up with constant red herrings and misrepresentations that the Giblin team was putting out. A decision was made to clear the air with the U.S. Attorney,” said Frank Giantomasi, DiVincenzo’s attorney. “The level of negativity was so high that it led us to call the U.S. Attorney’s office for clarity, and clarity has been issued by the United States Attorney, and I don’t think anybody should interpret that letter. It speaks for itself, and I think it is very clear.”

“This campaign has sunk to the lowest depths of scandalizing political candidates that I can think of. That resulted in our request,” explained Giantomasi.

But the Giblin campaign says it “stands by its charges that Joe DiVincenzo has violated the law during his tenure as President of the Freeholder Board.”

“Christie did not claim that federal investigators had exonerated Mr. DiVincenzo from these violations nor did he claim that federal investigators had not interviewed DiVincenzo as part of the current investigation into Essex County government,” the Giblin campaign said in a statement released on Monday. “While Mr. Christie stated that Mr. DiVincenzo was not the target of the probe, he refused to state that Mr. DiVincenzo had never been interviewed by the federal government as part of the probe.”

Asked today if he has been questioned by federal prosecutors or the FBI, DiVincenzo told PoliticsNJ.com “Absolutely not.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Newark declined further comment on the letter.

The Giblin campaign accused DiVincenzo of attempting to “cynically use the secret proceedings of a grand jury investigation to imply that he has not committed any wrongdoing,” and argued that since the proceedings of a grand jury investigation are secret “DiVincenzo would have no way of knowing whether his actions are being investigated by the U.S. Attorney.”

“The U.S. Attorney’s letter and its limited scope does not imply that he has not broken the…laws — nor does it categorically state that he has never been questioned in connect
ion with the probe into Essex County government,” the Giblin campaign said. “Mr. DiVincenzo’s actions beg the question as to why a government official feels the need to clarify his legal standing with the U.S. Attorney. Most public officials have never committed any actions that would require the U.S. Attorney to address their legal standing.”

One former federal prosecutor called Christie’s move “highly unusual” and questioned why the U.S. Attorney chose to become involved in the Democratic primary for County Executive.

“I’m not aware of this ever happening in the past,” said a former Senior Assistant U.S. Attorney, who asked not to be identified. He said that then-U.S. Attorney Samuel Alito issued a similar letter for a candidate in the Camden County Sheriff’s race in 1988. “But that was a case where the FBI was quoted as a source saying the guy was under investigation. Alito put out a letter a week before the election saying it wasn’t true.”

“But this isn’t a case where law enforcement has given a charge credibility. Giblin has been pushing that DiVincenzo is corrupt, DiVincenzo has said that Giblin is corrupt, and this is the usual stuff of political campaigns in New Jersey,” the prosecutor said. “Elections are blood sport here, and I don’t know why Chris Christie would get involved.”

James endorsement

James, re-elected to a fifth term two weeks ago, pledged his full support of DiVincenzo and his slate of Freeholder candidates.

“Joe DiVincenzo has been in the forefront and actively involved in numerous programs that benefit Newark and Essex County particularly those that assist our youth and elderly residents,” said James, casually dressed in a black polo shirt, blue jeans, and black sandals with black socks. “”You can’t find a better person, a better name than Joe DiVincenzo.

James criticized Giblin’s campaign tactics, saying that “the people waging the smear campaign against Joe D seem to have learned their tactics from the people who ran against me.” But Giblin’s campaign consultants, Steve DeMicco and Brad Lawrence of Message & Media, were James’ strategists during the recent mayoral election.

Payback time? In 2002, Christie helped DiVincenzo with a golden letter