CHRISTIE PUTS A TIGER IN HIS TANK
By Louis Manzo / March 13, 2015
The latest Chris Christie caper centers on the Christie Administration’s just announced settlement agreement with ExxonMobil, amounting to $225M, for an environmental damages lawsuit initiated under the administration of former NJ Governor James McGreevey. The lawsuit went after the corporate giant for pollution damages resulting from their refinery operations in Union County and elsewhere in New Jersey. Anyone who has traveled the New Jersey Turnpike in the vicinity of Exit 13 and whiffed the putrid rotten egg smell there will catch the drift of the lawsuit right away.
The original lawsuit brought by the State sought $8.9B for damages and another $2.6B in remediation costs. After years of legal battling, the State’s legal team won significant court victories establishing ExxonMobil’s guilt. The company was on the ropes. Apparently, that wasn’t good enough for the Christie Administration. Enter the Governor’s Chief Counsel, Christopher Porrino—a genuine legal eagle…with an apparent broken wing and dry beak—who inserted himself in the process and meddled with the successful legal team.
Porrino snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
Under Porrino’s direction, Team Christie negotiated the $12.8B settlement agreement down to a paltry $225M—about a three cents on the dollar sellout from the position of the legal team before Mr. Porrino’s interference. According to former NJDEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell, his former colleagues still working for NJ State government alerted him to the fact that Porrino “inserted himself in the case, elbowed aside the attorney general and career employees whom had developed and prosecuted the litigation, and cut the deal favorable to Exxon.” This has environmentalists, legislators, and the media scratching their heads. ExxonMobil is, meanwhile, scratching their palms, and the corporation can hardly wait for the courts to bless the Christie Administration’s surrender.
Governor Christie called his administration’s capitulation a good deal. His mouthpieces framed the deal as “historic.” Distinguished journalist, Tom Moran of the Star-Ledger, likened the Administration’s action to a “sludge lagoon.”
While some might argue that the settlement is more moronic than “historic,” what certainly must be “historic” is ExxonMobil’s $751k in political donations that it bestowed on the Republican Governor’s Association, before the settlement and when Governor Christie was the Associations’ Chairman. Plenty of cash to fuel campaigns. These circumstances mimic an all too familiar historic pattern of corporations, companies, and individuals who donate money to Christie causes or take actions in concert with Christie’s needs, finding that they eventually become the financial beneficiary of lucrative government contract awards, government appointments, or in this case, a government legal settlement..
When he was United States Attorney, Christie categorized such conduct as public corruption—now that this like behavior suites Christie’s needs, he calls it a “good deal.” There is a litany of this revolting behavior documented in the book, and on the website for the book, “Ruthless Ambition” .
In fact, the last time that Christie was so generous in doling out goodies, he handed out the “Plea Deal of the Century” to Solomon Dwek—United States Attorney Christie’s pet confidential informant from the “Bid Rig III” sting fame. Despite being nailed for bank fraud and running a mufti-million dollar Ponzi scheme, instead of proceeding with a slam-dunk prosecution, Christie handed Dwek a ticket to possible freedom by employing the con as a government confidential informant. Christie then turned a blind eye when Dwek negotiated a $12k per month salary with the Trustee appointed by the bankruptcy court to unravel his frauds. His salary was paid from the solvency fund setup to compensate Dwek’s victims. According to Dwek, the government didn’t even require him to file income tax statements for the money.
Testifying under a sworn oath as a witness at the trial of a Bid Rig III defendant, Dwek told the court of a plot to use his $50k political donation to George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign in order to influence lenient treatment for himself after his arrest. It turns out that Christie and another lawyer were heading up Bush’s fundraising in the State at the time of Dwek’s donation
When the ExxonMobil settlement was announced, the reaction was overwhelmingly negative. Environmental groups, legislators, and the media are savaging the deal and calling for an investigation. As with all other Christie capers, one waits for the proverbial “other shoe to drop.” And, as usual, with Christie, waiting for the “other shoe to drop” is like hanging out in Imelda Marcos’ clothes closet—it doesn’t take that long for a shoe to show up.
The clodhopper to fall from the sky in this escapade was the revelation that Mr. Porrino not only had a proclivity for letting his elbows fly, but for also making shrewd financial investments as well. It was disclosed that Porrino owns a mutual fund valued at more than $100k of which ExxonMobil stock is the largest holding. Porrino’s involvement in this fraud smells about as bad as the air around NJ Turnpike Exit 13. In the real world, for you and me, and the Average Joe, Mr. Porrino’s situation would be commonly known as a conflict of interest and subject us to a potential criminal prosecution. But in defense of the evidence and allegations that Mr. Porrino had an obvious conflict of interest, the Christie Administration calls the criticism “flatly wrong.”
This constant defense of potential criminal behavior by Christie groupies is starting to wear thin. And their criticisms aimed at the victims of this potentially criminal behavior is continuing to pile up like traffic on the George Washington Bridge: The Mayor of Hoboken, who accused Christie’s Port Authority Chairman and Lieutenant Governor of shaking her down for development approvals in exchange for Sandy funding for her city; critics of Christie’s acceptance of gifts from Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones, after Christie advocated for the award of a multi-million dollar Port Authority contract to a business owned by the Texan; and law enforcement complaining about another scandal in which a distinguished New Jersey county prosecutor accused Christie of having him fired for indicting one of the Governor’s campaign supporters.
As a former United States Attorney, Christie should be smart enough to avoid establishing the elements of bribery while his cronies continue to make these “good deals”; instead, it seems that his people have perfected massaging the wink and a nod as a cover for the quid pro quo. With the cavalcade of scandals continuing to unfold, there may be more winking and nodding going on underneath Trenton’s gold dome than in a sleep disorder clinic.
Fortunately, for Christie, his critics continue to ask the United States Attorney’s Office [USAO] for the District of New Jersey to investigate. Christie always finds comfort when his former colleagues at the USAO conduct these seemingly endless and fruitless inquiries into his conduct. The same office is allegedly investigating many of the other allegations of criminal behavior regarding Christie’s Administration, including the infamous closing of the George Washington Bridge caper. To date, the USAO prosecutors have conducted themselves a lot like the bumbling French fictional detective, Inspector Clouseau—with apologies to Inspector Clouseau, at least he catches the criminal.
As the latest Christie scandal plays out, the Governor continues to crisscross the Nation, stealthily campaigning for the White House—where the shoe closets are a lot bigger. On the road, Christie fantasizes about his war record as a United States Attorney. Of course, he sanitizes his career for the out-of-town crowds. No mention about having his rear end hauled before Congress for handing out no-bid monitoring contracts to his future campaign donors, or his failing to prosecute his political associates and benefactors who were implicated in apparent criminal behavior.
Back in New Jersey, where the Governor’s popularity and polling numbers have dwindled down about as fast as the cash in the ExxonMobil settlement agreement, we continue to watch Christie’s profiteers let their elbows fly. Waiting, patiently, for other shoes to drop.