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Sunday, February 16, 2014

When Chris Christie Threatened Me

Chris Christie has a problem admitting he is wrong.  

His bigger problem may be his willingness to use his power -- first as a federal prosecutor and now as Governor -- to hide evidence of his mistakes.

I know this from personal experience.

The press has repeatedly covered the apparent incongruity between the regulatory charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission against 20 traders including Christie's brother Todd Christie, and the decision to omit Todd Christie from the list of those charged criminally (15 were charged in the Southern District of New York). 

Perhaps the special treatment -- and as some have long theorized, the illicit special treatment -- of Todd Christie prompted Christie to look elsewhere for people to prosecute, not to fight crime, mind you, but to rebut the presumptions of softness or preferential treatment.

Maybe that explains why Chris Christie seemed to take a personal interest in going after a fellow young Republican lawyer (and a candidate for State Assembly) some ten years ago.  Perhaps someone who -- at least on paper --  might be a rival some day.

Some ten, twelve years ago, I did some legal work for some people and organizations which, over time, generated some suspicions.

There was one client which I started working with while I was a senior associate at a prominent New York "boutique" securities law firm. After I left the law firm, I stayed in touch with the client and got some of their routine corporate work. This is what you do as a lawyer. This is how you build a practice. 

Over time, I raised questions about what the client was doing. Each time, I was reassured by the client. But something started to happen. Other lawyers and accountants started to become involved. Shockingly (at the time), some of these people were the very same people about whom I warned the same client! There were questions that soon went unanswered.  There were events and circumstances that went unexplained. There were documents whose absence went unaccounted for. 

I raised as many questions and objections as I could think, knocked on every door I could, even sought the advice of additional professionals.  At the end, I got no closer to the real answer other than to conclude that these additional people were not allies but obstacles, people running interference. There was this unsettling -- and infuriating -- sense of being stonewalled. When I got to the point that I could no longer uncover information, I left enough of a paper trail for someone else (someone who did have access to the information I was missing) hopefully to pick up and follow, and I quit the client.

In the past, a lawyer with misgivings about a client could always fire the client, but you were prohibited from going to the authorities unless you had proof of a crime or fraud. (That is what is called the "crime-fraud exception" to the attorney-client privilege.)  Soon after I quit, the various bar associations liberalized their rules to allow for what's called "noisy withdrawal."  But before then, any communication to the authorities without a smoking-gun document meant risking one's career and financial ruin from a civil lawsuit from the client for a broached attorney-client privilege.  Therefore, I had to remain silent, and wait for the truth to emerge.

Interpreting stonewalling as a form of disrespect, I also walked away from everyone associated with this client, including a partner at a prestigious New York accounting firm.  I'm glad I did, because the client was raided by the authorities the next year.  Its principals were arrested and five served jail time.  In fact, these five appeared to have agreed to plead guilty and "cooperate" with authorities in unrelated investigations that in turn resulted in additional arrests and convictions of at least seven other people.

But something else happened.  While I never heard a peep from regulators, from investors or clients of this wayward client, Chris Christie's U.S. Attorney's Office began threatening me.  While a civil case against the client, its principals and some other people identified me only as someone deceived by those same principals, the U.S. Attorney's Office would not tell me -- nor my lawyer -- what they suspected me of doing regarding this client (or anything else) unless I decided to "cooperate."  

As a lawyer, it is natural to ask how certain terms are defined.  The plain English definition of "cooperate" is not what the feds meant in this case.  When the question of how to define "cooperate" was posed, here's what Chris Christie's U.S. Attorney's Office said: We aren't interested in anything you say unless you agree to plead guilty to some crime...that is, a crime we cannot determine nor explain to you.

I kid you not.

Even more curious was that one of Christie's line prosecutors admitted there was no criminal intent.  That's like admitting, "there's no case." You see, without criminal intent, there is no crime. (Just like in the "Law & Order" spinoff.) Intent is a necessary (but not sufficient) element of any crime. But this inconvenient fact didn't stop Christie's office. The threats continued.

It's one thing to be threatened...if you've done something arguably wrong.  It's entirely another matter when the facts and the law seem to be beyond the grasp of the person threatening you. It brings to mind the saying, "It's foolish to talk sense to the fool."  It also brings to mind a different saying: "Do not ascribe to malice what can be ascribed to incompetence." 

When the U.S. Attorney's Office claimed the client had waived the attorney-client privilege (but never showed the documentation), I still volunteered to answer any questions they had.  You might think someone really wanting to get to the bottom of a serious financial or corporate crime might just want to ask questions of the one person who was actually trying to find out what was going on, what had gone on, in real time. 

But not Chris Christie's U.S. Attorney's Office.  Not even when I offered to answer any question they might have, on any topic.  Not even when doing so would allow the feds the ability to take notes, for possible use against me if I contradicted those notes in later testimony.  That might be because I had one condition to the question-and-answer session. One condition. I insisted the session be independently video-recorded.  This way, I would be able to prove what I did, and did not, say in response to their questions.  This way, I would be able to prove the feds were wrong, or lying, if they tried to falsely claim that I "obstructed justice" by giving them a "false statement." This, mind you, is precisely how Martha Stewart got convicted in 2004. (It turns out the FBI has a policy against recording such sessions, if you can believe that.) 

If you wanted the truth, there could not be a more golden opportunity. But not Chris Christie's U.S. Attorney's Office.  They kept on delaying and rescheduling their free question session.  They never bothered to ask one question of me.  Not one. Not ever.  (The last prosecutor to punt on this question session got an award from the Justice Department in 2009 and later went to work for Governor Christie in 2010.)

What did Chris Christie's U.S. Attorney's Office do?

They sent Yale Law School a subpoena in May 2007 for all my academic records, merely a full thirteen years after I 1994. (I did not object.)

They did make sure to let me know that, in their view, my legal career was over.

They did make sure to let me know that I was facing "Enron-type" jail time if I didn't cooperate.

They did make sure to chase my lawyer up the courthouse steps to tell him they were "going to hurt" me if I didn't cooperate.

They did make sure to use as much intimidation, as much pressure, as they could get away with.  When the law was not on their side, when the facts were not on their side, that is all that remained.  The one-trick pony.  You see a lot of that with lawyers, which explains their popularity.

And as if to disregard any pretense of the truth, they had someone talk to me after I had been awake a full 26 hours uninterrupted, in an attempt to try to trick me into saying something sounding incriminating. 

One could be accused of being a coincidence theorist for refusing to think that a former line prosecutor under Chris Christie in the U.S. Attorney's Office, moving right next door to us in 2006 during the time of the investigation, was merely one hell of a coincidence. 

Chris Christie's U.S. Attorney's Office never asked me any questions, never asked me for any documents. Just like Governor Chris Christie never asked Bridget Anne Kelly or David Wildstein any questions.  It's as if they tried to avoid asking any questions.  

I guess he was afraid of the camera.

What's crazy is that the threats continued, even after the perpetrators of a $20 million fraud went to jail -- briefly -- and came out. One of the perpetrators was a potential key witness in an unrelated federal case.  That is, until I exposed his fraud on the court involving his other civil cases (including one involving his work as a mortgage broker, for goodness' sake) and attempts to file bankruptcy.  Fraud by an admitted felon and government witness, fraud occurring in 2006-07 while this man was supposedly (one would hope) supervised by federal agents in Christie's U.S. Attorney's Office. One day I received a response on my blog threatening me that my "best bet was to lay low." Whatever the hell that means. What's curious is that I got this response, just seconds after walking out of Manhattan's federal courthouse after observing a brief segment of an interesting trial.

For people charged with the duties of uncovering and fighting serious crime, the way Chris Christie's U.S. Attorney's Office treated me showed they were very interested in keeping me very quiet. 

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