Acting as Gov. Jon Corzine’s attack dog, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) – the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor – said that Republican gubernatorial nominee Chris Christie gave a defendant accused of tax fraud a “sweetheart plea deal” after he hired the law firm of Christie’s friends to represent him.
But Christie’s campaign said that the former U.S. Attorney had no knowledge of the arrangement, let alone involvement in it, and that he never signed the document at the center of Democrats’ charges.
“Chris Christie got caught in a political lie to cover up his role in a sweetheart deal that let a prominent Republican get a slap on the wrist in a tax fraud case involving tens of millions of dollars,” said Weinberg. “The fact that the guilty party was represented by two of Christie’s political colleagues makes his claim of ignorance impossible to swallow. Are we supposed to believe Christie’s campaign or Christie’s signature on a legal document? Come on Mr Christie – it’s time to tell us the whole truth.”
The charge comes about from a lawsuit filed in Philadelphia by developer Samuel Yarosh, who was a whistleblower against his former business associate, Morton Salkind.
According to the paper, Yarosh fed federal agents information on Salkind for five years, entitling him to a percentage of tax money recovered. But although Salkind originally pleaded guilty to tax fraud and was to repay $17.5 million, Stern and Iglesino’s law firm negotiated an agreement in which Salkind pleaded guilty to just one count of tax fraud and agreed to pay back only $276,000.
Christie spokeswoman Maria Comella said that the signature on the document – in which the name “Christopher J. Christie” is written out in print– did not actually come from Christie himself. Many prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, she said, have the authority to sign on behalf of Christie.
The signature bears no resemblance to the presumably genuine one on Christie’s November, 2008 resignation letter to former Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
“This is a frivolous lawsuit that has already been dismissed in court once before because it is based on nothing more than one man’s motivation for money,” said Comella. “The fact that this man is being politically exploited by Jon Corzine should not be a surprise coming from a campaign that so far has been solely centered around misleading, negative attacks.”
Update: Corzine’s Communications Director, Sean Darcy, says he doesn’t buy Christie’s claim of ignorance. See his statement below:
Christie’s denials and evasions on what he knew about the sweetheart plea deal handed out by his US Attorney’s office to a client represented by two of his closest political cronies on a case in his own backyard in Morris County simply doesn’t add up.
It strains common sense and credibility that Christie who is quick to take credit for everything in his office that serves his political ends pleads ignorance in this controversial plea arrangement despite his signature on the charging document.
Christie needs to let people know what he knew and when he knew it. Did he know about one of the biggest tax frauds in New Jersey’s history or did he have a rogue office? The people of this state deserve to know the truth.