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Friday, March 27, 2009

Governor Candidate Took Donation From Monitor

NJ governor candidate took donation from monitor
Newsday by ANGELA DELLI SANTI - March 26, 2009

TRENTON, N.J. - A former federal prosecutor running for New Jersey governor accepted campaign contributions from a lawyer he awarded a no-bid, multimillion-dollar contract to while serving as U.S. attorney, according to state election records.  Former U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie took $23,800 in donations this year from principals of Stern & Kilcullen of Roseland and their spouses, according to Election Law Enforcement Commission records. The contributions were matched 2-to-1 through public financing, bringing the total donation to $71,400.

As U.S. attorney, Christie named Herbert Stern to oversee operations of the University of Medicine and Dentistry (UMDNJ) in 2005 rather than prosecute the school on Medicare fraud charges. Stern and his wife Marcia each contributed the maximum allowed _ $3,400.  Stern, a former federal judge, was paid about $3 million for two years' work as a federal monitor.  Bill Palatucci, Christie's one-time law partner and a volunteer campaign fundraiser, said Thursday there's nothing inappropriate about accepting donations from longtime friends and colleagues. Christie's campaign referred questions to Palatucci.  Palatucci said there are no plans to return the money despite calls from Democratic Sen. Loretta Weinberg of Teaneck to give it back.  "There's no reason to," said Palatucci.  Stern did not return a message for comment.  As monitor, Stern oversaw day-to-day operations and the school's $1.6 billion budget.  The university agreed to the oversight rather than face criminal prosecution that would have cut off federal funding and closed its hospital. Authorities imposed the monitoring after discovering that UMDNJ double-billed for services covered by Medicare.

New Jersey's pay-to-play law prohibits contributions of more than $300 from anyone who receives a state contract of more than $17,500. The contract for Stern was awarded by the federal government, so state laws do not apply.  Christie, 46, built a reputation as a corruption-busting federal prosecutor during seven years as U.S. attorney appointed by George W. Bush. As a candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, he pledged a campaign in which he would disclose the name of every donor. Campaign finance laws require listing only those who give more than $300.  Palatucci said there's no conflict with the donations _ from the Sterns, John Inglesino and Kevin Kilcullen and their wives _ because federal monitors are chosen by the company trying to avoid prosecution, not by the U.S. attorney.  However, Rep. Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat who has introduced federal legislation increasing oversight of the agreements between U.S. attorneys and companies accused of wrongdoing, said Christie held all the cards in the case.

"The prosecutor has total control of the situation," said Pallone. "He tells the firm who to pick, he strong-arms them and he announces who the person is. They don't really have a choice."  Pallone raised concerns about Christie's use of the deferred persecution agreements after discovering that the federal prosecutor picked his old boss, former U.S. Attorney John Ashcroft, as a federal monitor in a no-bid deal worth $28 million to $52 million.  "This was the concern we've had all along," said Pallone. "He chooses his friends to be the monitors with the idea he would run for governor and go back to his political friends to raise money for his campaign."  Christie, of the Morris County town of Mendham, faces conservative Steve Lonegan in ta June Republican primary. The winner will challenge Gov. Jon S. Corzine in November.

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