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NJ anti-corruption cases encounter problems

The effort to combat perceived corruption among public officials has developed some problems. And several defendants have been acquitted, although their lives are in tatters after lengthy legal battles in federal court. The sting operation, initiated by Gov. Chris Christie when he was U.S. attorney in New Jersey, has created problems for the now-governor as well, who faces allegations that he steered the anti-corruption effort away from Republican officials who later helped him win the gubernatorial election.

The state used an admitted Ponzi schemer, Solomon Dwek, to record hundreds of hours of conversations between him and public and elected New Jersey officials. He presented himself as a real estate developer seeking favorable treatment in return for cash. However, the past of their principal witness was not the prosecution's only problem. In 2010, a judge ruled that the prosecution had unlawfully charged candidates for public office under a law that applies only to already-elected officials. The charges against several of the defendants were dismissed because of this prosecutorial error. Other defendants were acquitted because their actions, while ethically doubtful, were not illegal.

The story is not all bad news for the prosecution: of the approximately 40 cases that have been resolved, around three-quarters have pleaded guilty to charges that included money laundering, extortion and mail fraud. However, this percentage is less than the national average for federal charges. According to the Justice Department, around one in 200 defendants facing federal charges in 2009 was acquitted.

Attorneys who have followed the ins and outs of these cases have said that the new U.S. attorney who took over after Christie left the post for the governor's office has done as well as he could under the circumstances. Having to rely on testimony for Dwek was a problem; a federal judge described him as a "consummate defrauder and an extremely cunning liar."

Source: Huffington Post, "Court setbacks put damper on NJ corruption busts," by David Porter, Apr. 1, 2012.

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