The reliability of government informants has long been questioned by lawyers, because informants need to implicate other people in order to get a recommendation for leniency -- that is, a shorter jail sentence or no jail sentence at all. By extension, there is the temptation for government agents to use probably (or knowingly) false and perjurious witness and informant testimony as evidence to prosecute and jail juicy high-profile targets.This issue arises again in the emerging and potentially blockbuster controversy surrounding former Monmouth County sheriff and former Monmouth County Republican Party chairman Joseph Oxley, whom New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has nominated to be a Superior Court judge. Oxley has been in the news, because infamous government informant (or cooperating witness, in legal parlance) Solomon Dwek identified Oxley as someone who tipped him off about pending foreclosure sales. Dwek's testimony and covert videotaping of dozens of New Jersey elected officeholders, candidates, rabbis and others in the Bid Rig investigation -- most of which occurred on Christie's watch while he was sitting United States Attorney in Newark, NJ -- led to more than 40 criminal prosecutions in which Dwek's credibility was a central issue.
So what's the difference between Dwek's testimony about those people, and his testimony about Oxley? Good question.
Now, if the feds allowed for videotaping of these sessions, witnesses -- and defense lawyers -- could more easily defend themselves against charges and protect themselves against falling into agents' manufactured traps leading to perjury or false statement charges like the ones used to convict Martha Stewart. But FBI policy prohibits recording of witness interviews, so you have no defense if FBI agents claim you lied to them. Therefore, the only source of information about Dwek's statements to FBI agents about Oxley is whatever is contained in the FBI's official Forms 302, which are compiled by investigating agents and which may conceal as much as they reveal. But without videotaping, we cannot see and measure the accuracy of these claims -- that is, we cannot tell how accurate the reports are in conveying what Dwek really said.
Oxley is refusing to consent to the release of FBI files on him. Christie maintains that Oxley was cleared by investigators working under his successor as U.S. Attorney, Paul Fishman. But New Jersey legislators led by Senator Raymond Lesniak are blocking the nomination.
This controversy raises the seminal question: Were innocent people investigated, prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned, on the strength of government debriefings of a man whom federal agents either knew or should have known to be -- at best -- inconsistently credible, and a serial, pathological liar at worst?
The answer may be hinted at by the words earlier this year of federal district court judge Jose Linares.
Here are the words used by Linares to describe Dwek:
"A consummate defrauder and an extremely cunning liar."
Maybe the real question is, what did the U.S. Attorney's Office and federal investigators know?
And, are innocent people in jail for no reason?
Eric Dixon is a corporate lawyer who handles sensitive investigative matters involving the worlds of finance, business and politics, as well as sensitive personal matters.