Court filing seeks to tie Christie to dropping of indictment

AP News
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Posted: Feb 19, 2015 8:26 PM

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — A court filing in an ex-prosecutor's lawsuit offers email excerpts that seek to tie Republican Gov. Chris Christie to the dropping of a criminal indictment related to a member of Christie's transition team.

The filing was made Thursday by former Hunterdon County assistant prosecutor Bennett Barlyn, who says he was fired in 2010 for suggesting politics influenced the dismissal of the indictment against the former county sheriff and two subordinates because a Christie donor was questioned in the case.

Barlyn's filing references emails in which one of the defendants, former undersheriff Michael Russo, writes to a biotech company executive who donated to Christie's campaign and served on his transition team about speaking with Christie at campaign events.

In one email cited, Russo wrote to Celgene executive Robert Hariri, "Sorry you missed the Chris Christie event. I told him you said Hi, he told me about the guest tour at Celgene he had recently. Give me a call!" In another, he wrote, "Sorry you missed the ELC Luncheon, had a nice photo-op and chat with Chris, gave him your regards!"

Barlyn's lawsuit, which seeks damages including lost wages, contends Russo told a reporter after the indictment that Christie would step in and "have this whole thing thrown out."

An attorney representing Russo in a separate lawsuit related to the indictment didn't return a message Thursday.

Christie, who is considering a run for the White House, has denied any involvement in the dropping of the indictment. A spokesman previously said Christie didn't remember meeting any of the people involved in the case.

On Thursday, spokesman Kevin Roberts said in a statement Christie "made it clear that he never discussed the case with anyone at the Attorney General's Office." Regarding Russo, Roberts said, "the Governor and Lt. Governor crossed paths with hundreds of people during the course of the 2009 campaign and Mr. Russo may very well have been one of them. We've never claimed otherwise."

Hariri wasn't charged with any crime but was questioned, according to the lawsuit, in connection with the investigation that led to the indictment charging Russo, the sheriff and an investigator with numerous offenses including official misconduct and falsification of employment records. Barlyn's lawsuit says Hariri received a fake law enforcement ID from Russo.

The attorney general's office took over the case and dismissed the indictment, citing "legal and factual deficiencies," an unusual move according to Barlyn, considering a grand jury had effectively given its stamp of approval. There was no attempt to present the charges again to the grand jury to correct the deficiencies, Barlyn said.

Barlyn was suspended soon after and later was terminated, the result, he says, of his telling county acting prosecutor Dermot O'Grady he felt the dismissal was politically motivated.

In Thursday's filing, Barlyn cites an email from O'Grady that refers to Michele Brown, at the time an aide to Christie, having questions about the case in mid-September 2010, days after the attorney general's office had fired Barlyn. The filing says that, based on Brown's duties as the governor's appointments counsel at the time, "It is therefore fair to infer that Brown's inquiry to O'Grady in Hunterdon on September 17th was not made in the course of her ordinary duties on behalf of the Governor."

Brown, who recently stepped down as head of the state's Economic Development Authority to lead the nonprofit economic development organization Choose New Jersey, didn't return an email seeking comment Thursday.