New Jersey lawmakers investigating a politically engineered traffic jam have been asked to begin a separate probe into whether a top official in Gov. Chris Christie's administration got a criminal indictment dropped because it targeted Christie supporters.
Former Hunterdon County Assistant Prosecutor Charles Ouslander asked in a letter to the legislative panel to investigate whether politics informed the decision by then-state Attorney General Paula Dow to drop a 43-count indictment in 2010 against the county sheriff, Deborah Trout, a Christie backer.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter that was sent this week to the Legislative Select Committee on Investigation.
"As a former career county and state level prosecutor with firsthand knowledge of the events in question, I again express my belief that the actions of the Attorney General were unlawful and, from my vantage point, obviously influenced by improper political considerations," Ouslander wrote.
Ouslander's allegation is at the center of a lawsuit filed by one of his former colleagues, Bennett Barlyn, also an assistant prosecutor in the Hunterdon office in 2010. Barlyn claims he was suspended a day after he complained when the attorney general's office announced it was dismissing the indictment, then fired soon after.
The indictment charged Trout, Undersheriff Michael Russo and investigator John Falat Jr. with official misconduct, falsifying records and criminal simulation, among other offenses.
Sen. Loretta Weinberg and Assemblyman John Wisniewski, Democrats who co-chair the legislative panel looking into the bridge scandal, said Friday the request would be reviewed.
"The pattern we're seeing is you are rewarded for saying `yes' and something seems to happen if you say 'no,'" said Weinberg, who ran against Christie as a lieutenant governor candidate in 2009 and was later on the receiving end of a Christie rant during which he suggested the press "take a bat" to the 79-year-old legislator.
According to Barlyn's lawsuit, a witness in the investigation -- though he wasn't charged -- was Dr. Robert Hariri, who with his wife donated more than $10,000 to Christie's 2009 gubernatorial campaign and later was part of the Republican governor's transition team.
Christie has denied any involvement in the decision to drop the indictment.
A grand jury handed up an indictment in early 2010, but the attorney general's office took over the case from the Hunterdon prosecutor's office and announced in August it was dropping the indictment because of legal and factual deficiencies.
Barlyn has said he and others in the office were shocked since a grand jury had found sufficient reason to bring the indictment in the first place. He added that when there are problems with an indictment, the normal procedure is to re-present it to the grand jury.
"That's the key; that's the giveaway in terms of the AG wanting the case gone, is that it was never re-presented to the grand jury to correct the defects," Barlyn said Friday.
His lawsuit is in limbo while both sides await an appellate division ruling on whether the state has to release secret grand jury transcripts from the Trout indictment. Barlyn contends these will show that the indictment was not deficient; the state has argued in court filings that releasing them would make future witnesses reluctant to testify and that Barlyn hasn't shown a compelling need that would override that concern.
A spokesman for the attorney general's office declined comment Friday. Dow, now a judge in Burlington County, didn't respond to a request for comment.