New Jersey GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie said he didn't know about a plea bargain that happened while he was U.S. attorney and is now the subject of a lawsuit, but a Justice Department press release under his name touts the $17 million tax fraud settlement.
The press release, issued after the case was settled in May 2008, has Christie announcing the plea agreement with a Morris County developer. In the document, Christie credits prosecutors for their work on the case.
Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said it was not unusual for press releases to be written and sent without Christie's knowledge. Drewniak said he had the authority to select which cases were highlighted for the media and to work directly with prosecutors in Christie's office to craft press releases.
Christie, who is seeking to unseat Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, did not return messages for comment Monday. When asked about the case last week, he said he didn't know about the deal, but he has
acknowledged he was responsible for everything that went on in the office during the seven years he was New Jersey's top federal prosecutor.
A federal lawsuit filed last month alleges that the tax fraud defendant, Morton Salkind, was given leniency because he was represented by lawyers who are close friends of Christie's. The suit contends that Salkind was allowed to plead guilty to a smaller fraud and that the government hasn't enforced the order for Salkind to repay the $17 million.
Salkind is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday.
The lawsuit was filed by Samuel Yarosh, who helped the IRS build the tax case against his former business partner and is entitled to a portion of the money the government recovers.
Salkind's lawyer, Mark Rufolo, is a partner in Stern & Kilcullen. Christie has described the law firm's principal, Herb Stern, as a mentor. Another partner, John Inglesino, is a Christie fundraiser, close friend and unpaid adviser.
While U.S. attorney, Christie awarded a $3 million no-bid contract to Stern to monitor the state's medical school. Stern picked Inglesino, his law partner, as chief counsel on the job.
Stern and Inglesino and their wives each later gave the maximum $2,300 donation allowed to Christie's campaign for governor.