Christie Named In Federal Lawsuit

STATE—Christopher Christie has been named in a federal tort claims lawsuit notice that asserts the GOP gubernatorial candidate “utilized his office as a collection agency for his relatives and extorted money from the claimant for the benefit of his family in violation of the Hobbs Act.”

Belleville attorney Frank Cozzarelli filed a civil claim with the U.S. Department of Justice on May 4, alleging that Christie threatened his livelihood because of an alleged vendetta.

According to the documents, Cozzarelli was the court-appointed overseer of the liquidation of Printon Kane. Christie represented one of the firm’s principals, Joseph Manello, during the liquidation proceeding. According to the documents, Manello was unhappy with the final settlement and over time became increasingly unhappy with Chirstie’s representation.

Manello was a major investor in Mendham Capital, where Christie’s wife Mary Pat was a partner. According to the documents, Manello forced her out in 1997, denying her a share of the substantial profit accrued when the firm was sold the next year.

Cozzarelli was the subject of a federal investigation, which was closed in 2000 when Assistant US Attorney Michael Guadagno declined to prosecute, according to documents. After Christie was appointed as a U.S. attorney in 2002, an IRS investigation was initiated on the same case the Justice Department closed two years earlier, Cozzarelli’s claim charges.

Although Christie recused himself from a 2004 meeting, members of Christie’s staff allegedly suggested to Cozzarelli’s lawyers that their client should clear up an outstanding business dispute with Christie’s relatives, the claim asserts. Cozzarelli paid in excess of $11,000 to resolve that matter, which had nothing to do with the IRS investigation, according to documents.

Cozzarelli was indicted in September 2004 and negotiated a plea, but the U.S. Attorney’s office pushed for a harsh sentence, according to the claim. Cozzarelli ultimately served a four-month sentence and lost his license to practice law.

According to the claim, Cozzarelli “withheld making these allegations public because Christie held the office of US Attorney and was fully capable of utilizing his office and the resources derived from that office to his own advantage as he has previously done.  When a government official uses the power of his position to ruin innocent lives for the sake of personal vengeance, it cannot and should not be ignored.”

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