Gov. Chris Christie issued 26 pardons Friday, including one for a campaign contributor convicted on unlawful weapon sale charges after about 125 police officers, detectives and federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms seized a cache of firearms, explosives and silencers in predawn raids that culminated a 10-month undercover investigation.
John Pjeternikaj, pardoned by Christie on Friday, was convicted in 1983 on charges of unlawful sale of a weapon and arson. He was one of 18 people charged as a result of an undercover investigation into the sale of illegal weapons in northern New Jersey that captured 15 pounds of plastic explosives, 65 firearms and 52 silencers.
A resident of Saddle River, Pjeternikaj was a donor to Christie’s 2009 gubernatorial campaign, his inaugural committee, his 2016 presidential campaign, the state Republican Party and Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.
He gave at least $13,000 to campaigns or committees controlled by Christie according to reports filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission and the Federal Election Commission.
Pjeternikaj also contributed $1,000 to the 2014 campaign of Paterson Mayor Joey Torres, who was sentenced to five years in prison on corruption charges; $2,500 to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and $700 to state Sen. Joseph Pennacchio’s 2017 re-election campaign.
Lisa A. Pyatt, 50, was serving a 40-year prison sentence for the June 19, 1991, murder of 32-year-old Kevin McGowan in their Point Pleasant Beach home. Christie commuted her sentence to time served, freeing her six years before her earliest parole eligibility.
Christie also pardoned Brian Aitken, who gained national attention in 2009 when he was convicted for possessing handguns in New Jersey that he had purchased legally in another state. Aitken had served four months in prison before Christie commuted his sentence to time served in 2010. The National Rifle Association praised Christie for the commutation, helping secure his image as a rising star in national politics. As a presidential candidate, Christie touted his commutation of Aitken’s sentence in his pitch to gun owners.
Pjeternikaj is the second known pardon of a campaign contributor by Christie. On December 22, the Friday before Christmas, Christie issued an evening pardon to another donor with whom he appeared to have a personal relationship.
The Republican governor previously announced 10 pardons on the Friday before Christmas, including one of a campaign contributor convicted of falsifying records to receive public contracts..
Christie pardoned Joseph M. Longo, 55, on Dec. 22. Longo pleaded guilty in 2016 to falsifying payroll records related to two public-works projects that his company, Longo Electrical-Mechanical, performed for Montclair township and the Middlesex County Utilities Authority, according to court records.
Longo donated $500 to Christie’s campaign for governor in 2009, and his company donated another $1,050 for Christie’s 2009 campaign and 2010 and 2014 inaugural events. Longo also posed for pictures with Christie and the governor’s wife, Mary Pat, in 2014, and posted a photo on his Facebook page.
Filings with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission show Longo donated $500 to Christie’s gubernatorial campaign in 2009. Longo is also listed as president of Longo Electrical-Mechanical, Inc., business records show. That entity donated another $1,050 to Christie’s campaign and inaugural committees in 2009, 2010 and 2014, according to campaign finance records.
Longo’s lawyer was Jeffrey Chiesa, whom Christie named his transition director and chief counsel in 2009 and 2010, state attorney general in 2011, acting U.S. senator in 2013 and state overseer of financially strapped Atlantic City last year.
Chiesa worked out a plea agreement that did not bar Longo or his company from receiving future public contracts, so the pardon could put the Morristown electrical contractor back in business at public expense.
Christie, who was appointed as a federal prosecutor after he helped raise more than $100,000 for President George W. Bush Jr.’s 2000 campaign, leaves office on Tuesday.
In eight years as governor, Christie issued clemency to 55 people, including 52 pardons and 3 sentence commutations but only three of the orders came before he launched a failed campaign for president.
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