The investigation into New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s use of federal Superstorm Sandy relief funds isn’t the first time Christie has been accused of improperly steering federal money to political connections.
Federal officials opened Monday an investigation into whether Christie improperly directed a portion of the millions in Sandy relief funds toward a tourism campaign starring him and his family. In 2009, however, Christie’s awarding of a contract to his former boss John Ashcroft sparked a congressional investigation.
During his tenure as a U.S. attorney, Christie negotiated seven of what are known as deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs). DPAs allow for a defendant to avoid prosecution by making settlements in which they agree to do things such as paying fines, making reforms, or cooperating with an investigation.
In those agreements, Christie required the appointment of outside monitors to ensure compliance with the DPA — at the expense of the company in the agreement.
In one case, a $311 million settlement that ended a probe and possible prosecution of some of the leading manufacturers of knee and hip replacements, Christie hand-selected the firm of his former boss U.S. Attorney John Ashcroft to serve as a monitor. Ashcroft’s firm was poised to collect an estimated $52 million in 18 months — one of the largest deals ever for a federal monitor.
The decision did not go unnoticed: Christie later testified before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary in 2009 about the incident.
In the oft-testy hearing, Christie testified that Ashcroft was qualified and said of Ashcroft’s large contract it wasn’t unusual “for high-priced lawyers to argue with each other about fees.”
Christie also noted the company that Ashcroft was appointed to monitor said “we believe we got the best monitor,” and added that “zero taxpayer dollars were spent on these monitors.”
Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s book Double Down: Game Change 2012 revealed the Romney campaign included the incident in the vetting research on Christie, and it was considered a significant hit on Christie.
“There was Christie’s decision to steer hefty government contracts to donors and political allies like former Attorney General John Ashcroft, which sparked a congressional hearing,” the duo wrote of the opposition research file that caused vetters to be ” stunned by the garish controversies lurking in the shadows of his record.”
The current investigation concerns the use of federal funds provided after Hurricane Sandy.
In a letter written to the Department of Housing and Urban development Thursday, New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone said he was concerned about how Christie spent the marketing money after Hurricane Sandy.
Among Pallone’s concerns is the fact that the firm that won the bid for the marketing plan charged the state around $2 million more than the next lowest bidder. The firm that received the contract was politically connected and proposed using Christie in the ads while the lower bidding firm did not.
Pallone and his fellow New Jersey Democrat Rep. Bill Pascrell also testified after Christie at the 2009 hearing they believed Christie was using his power as a U.S. attorney to reward high-value contracts for his friends and political connections.