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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Chris Christie and the Honest Services Statute; Charlie Rangel too

The Corzine campaign has a new ad out that criticizes Chris Christie for imposing one set of rules on others -- while he was chief federal law enforcement officer of New Jersey - while allegedly playing by a different set.   This is no doubt inspired by the recent, undisclosed $46,000 loan to his subordinate and the subsequent failure to either disclose said loan on state and federal disclosure forms or report the interest on said loan on state and federal tax returns.

Compare the Christie transgressions with:

(1) the failure to pay taxes on approximately $16,000 by former Guttenberg mayor Peter LaVilla, who pled guilty in 2003 to failure to file a tax return and received a sentence of four years' probation.


(2) the "honest services" crime of former Mercer County public official and former prosecutor Harry Parkin, who received a 90-month jail sentence for a variety of corrupt acts.  (Parkin went to trial, and acted as his own lawyer.)

Parkin's indictment (handed down during Christie's tenure) describes the public's right to, and the official's duty of, "honest services."  (See paragraph 11 for yourselves, courtesy of the Justice Department's website.)  It reads, in relevant part:

"As a public official of Mercer County, defendant HARRY G. PARKIN owed Mercer County and its citizens and the [Mercer County Improvement Authority] a duty to, among other things . . .

(B) disclose personal financial interests in official matters over which [the defendant]... exercised influence, authority and discretion in favor of those interests, and to not affirmatively conceal such material information."

(One note of interest:  Remember that Parkin was indicted for and convicted of several crimes, which were in connection with his holding positions for which he received significant salaries from government agencies.  Perhaps a crucial difference, beyond party affiliation, is that with Christie, no public monies appear to be involved.) 

Just apply this language to Christie and consider the ramifications of applying the same standard.    Whether that standard ought to be applied, to anyone, is a different issue.   However, these cases -- and there are others to be sure -- illustrate why Corzine's campaign thinks there are legs to this issue/story.

AND --- lest we forget -- the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the esteemed Charles Rangel, has a similar and more grave tax problem and failure-to-disclose problem.   There are already (on Thursday 9/3/09) editorials by such esteemed publications as the Washington Post for Rangel to step down from his committee chairmanship.    I agree wholeheartedly.

How would Rangel fare under an obnoxious United States attorney?   Please note:  I am not criticizing Rangel, this is a civil matter which undermines his credibility to be on the Ways and Means Committee but this is not a criminal matter...I mean, let's get real.   This is more of a criticism of the prosecutorial overreaching to "go after" certain people under any pretense available, and occasionally someone who is a target is stupid enough -- and that is the correct phrase -- to actually have done something wrong.  

Rangel should be distinguished from the nut-job theorists and their followers, like the actor Wesley Snipes, who think taxes are somehow unconstitutional.   But rules are rules and at some point there is no excuse for a failure to disclose, or failure to pay; rather, one can presume these people are just playing a game of "gotcha" where they wait to get caught and then profess contrition.   Rangel and Christie appear to be peas of the same pod on this issue.

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