Sometime last year, Jon Stewart made a joke about New Jersey corruption; something to the effect of disappointment that his home state no longer led the nation in convoluted schemes and backdoor political deals. Thank Christie, though…Jersey is back on the map! Yes, Chris Christie, one-time front-runner for the GOP’s First Loser 2016 (now edged out narrowly by Jeb Bush) has proven that he’s more than capable of carrying not not just the Garden State’s tradition of corruption, but that of all GOP presidential candidates of the last ten years or so. But unlike most of the last ten years’ worth, Christie’s shady dealings have officially caught the attention of Federal prosecutors.
This story started back in 2008, in Hunterdon County, a picturesque backwater of the Western Highlands — aka “a place so full of mafia bodies that the grass grows stained with spaghetti sauce.” That’s racist. But it doesn’t affect the county’s reputation; at abut a third the size of Rhode Island, Hunterdon is the 19th wealthiest county in the United States per capita, and the third richest per capita in New Jersey. There’s some money in those dark hills, for certain.
The county’s then Sheriff of Hunterdon Deborah Trout was said to have “run her domain like a private feifdom,” since being sworn in in 2008. She was known for sending political opponents to (figuratively) sleep with the fishes in the Delaware, and appointing her friends and political supporters to various positions without initiating background checks, and regardless of any qualifications they might have to hold the job.
In one incredible instance, she authorized giving her own appointed Investigator Gregory Ezekian a county-issued handgun, before he’d been fingerprinted, or even completed his application. Ezekian was later found to have falsified the application he did submit, and failed subsequently the background check.
She also made her appointees illegally sign “loyalty oaths” — to her.
It’s good to be the Queen.
But Queen Trout eventually found herself on the hook of 18-year New Jersey U.S. Attorney Bennett Barlyn, who went angling with a line of inquiry that landed her 43 separate indictments from a Grand Jury. The Grand Jury felt the evidence for indictment was “strong,” and convictions were expected. But unfortunately for Barlyn, she had a friend in the Big Boat. After Barlyn opened his investigation, Trout led her association of county law enforcement officials in a massive push to back Chris Christie during 2009. She even supplied Christie with deputies to help out on his campaign; which paid off when the horse she backed won the election, and took office in 2010.
The very day those indictments became public, Trout made a phone call to Christie’s office. He sent down his own appointed prosecutor, who took up Barlyn’s seat after Barlyn was suspended without notice. Almost immediately afterward, word came down from The New Boss that all 43 indictments were to be dropped, citing “legal and factual deficiencies.”
It’s also probably worth reiterating that this was in early 2010, almost immediately after Christie took office. Meaning, one of his first acts as governor was to send his newly appointed stooge out to the boonies, to “do a little favor” for someone what he owed. The favor done, Queen Trout’s record was washed clean via expungement, and she left office unscathed and with no nasty legal matters hanging over her head.
Oh, and also — Barlyn was fired. Via fax. Which, along with white Dockers, is apparently still a thing that exists.
Afterward, Barlyn got serious; he put down his Walkman, and picked up his Nokia 6160 cell phone to file a whistleblower lawsuit against Christie’s administration. But because Barlyn sent the paperwork via FedEx, it took federal prosecutors almost five years to receive the mail and find his house in Pennsylvania; they finally arrived on Wednesday.
He told the IBTimes that they interviewed him for over an hour on the case, and that the Fed had opened two criminal investigations in the case. The bigger of the two focuses on Christie’s then attorney general Paula Dow, who had unusually moved to expunge the indictments against Trout & Co. after they were dropped. Barlyn said that from what he could gather, the federal investigators were in an early “exploratory” phase of the investigation, gathering basic information prior to filing actual criminal charges. That doesn’t necessarily mean that criminal charges will necessarily be filed — but we can be pretty certain the Fed didn’t go out its way to locate Pennsylvania for the scenery. The charges, if filed, will almost certainly go up the chain to Christie himself.
Dow maintains Barlyn was fired for “legitimate business reasons.” Christie, for his part, has denied all involvement in Barlyn’s termination, and claims not to even know who Deborah Trout is. This, despite the fact that his own running mate exchanged many chatty emails with her political supporter, and later praised Trout for all the work she did in helping Christie get elected.
So…Christie’s biggest political supporter in one of the largest and richest counties in the state, on a first-name basis with his own running mate, very recently let off by his own appointee on a 43-count indictment, whose last name was Trout…nope. Never heard of her. Mindya bidness. And don’t ask me ’bout Stevie Salmon, neither — he’s buried in dem woods, but good.
Jon…you may be proud, once again.