U.S. attorney reflects on career highs

BY KATHY CHANG Staff Writer

METUCHEN — Christopher J. Christie said the past seven years as U.S. attorney have been an incredible journey for him.

Last week, Christie, 46, announced his resignation as U.S. attorney, effective Dec. 1.

“It has been my great honor and privilege to serve for the past seven years as United States Attorney,” Christie said in a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

Recently, Christie spoke at a Metuchen- Edison Exchange Club meeting and discussed the past seven years and his future plans.

“It’s hard to focus on finding another job when I enjoy so much what I am doing,” he said. Christie visited the borough on behalf of the Metuchen-Edison Exchange Club at Alessio’s restaurant on Nov. 11.

The club raises money for scholarships and other programs through its annual charity ball, the Metuchen Country Fair and other projects. It is a chapter of the National Exchange Club, which focuses on preventing child abuse.

Christie brought with him Michele Brown, executive assistant U.S. attorney, and Phil Degnan, head of the terrorism unit at the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“Without these dedicated people in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, we would not be able to do what we do,” he said.

In 2001, Christie was appointed by President George W. Bush as U.S. attorney in New Jersey.

“I am confident that President-elect Barack Obama, with his new attorney general, will pick a new crop of U.S. attorneys come January 20,” said Christie.

The former U.S. attorney said he does not worry about his next job.

“There was speculation in 2002 what would be my next job … my father said to me at the time, I should not worry about my next job, I should focus on my job, and the next job will take care of itself. … Last Tuesday [Nov. 4] I was focused [on my next job].”

Christie’s comment brought laughter to the 25 club members and their spouses.

Also in attendance was Metuchen Mayor Thomas Vahalla and Bob Sharp, president of the Exchange Club of New Jersey and New York.

“I have now started the process [of looking for a new job]. With four children ages 15, 12, 8 and 5, I will probably be working for the rest of my life,” he laughed.

Christie spoke about what the U.S. Attorney’sOffice has focused on over the past seven years under his direction, including child exploitation, human trafficking, terrorism, and political corruption.

Child exploitation and human trafficking

Christie said he has a unit of eight attorneys assigned to child exploitation cases.

“They spend 75 percent of their time prosecuting on the grounds of child pornography,” he said.

“What is fueling child pornography is the Internet … back then, pornography was wrapped in a brown paper bag sent to a [post office] box and picked up by a shady person, who looked shady because that person knew he or she was doing something wrong,” said Christie. “Now no one needs to go to that P.O. box. Almost everyone has a home computer connected to the Internet … as we speak, a child is being exploited for profit. I’m not talking about these small mom-and-pop operations, but where people are making billions of dollars of profit, with the United States being the main consumer of this material of photographs and videos.”

Christie said these people who exploit children purchase material overwhelmingly by credit card.

“We wanted to get these real-time transactions,” he said. “We contacted the major credit card companies and proposed what we wanted. … They weren’t thrilled at first, but what do federal prosecutors do best? … We threatened them … we told them, well if you want to be known as [enabling] child pornography, we will help you do that. … It was not a surprise that they complied with our proposal afterwards.”

Christie said their office targeted three men who worked as middlemen and were laundering their production (of child exploitation) to Belarus.

“These people were making $2 million per month off these Web sites … there were a dozen of these sites,” he said.

Christie said his office was able to lure these three men from Belarus to Paris, France, rousing them with increased business opportunities.

“We got information on audio tapes, and French officials were then able to go in and apprehend them, and these three suspects were extradited back to the United States,” he said. “All three were arrested, convicted and sentenced to 20 years of prison with no chance of parole.”

Christie said that since then, they have prosecuted over 600 people in similar cases.

“It’s a small step, but a significant one in deterring child exploitation,” he said. “Because of that case, two of our assistant U.S. attorneys were invited to the White House and were awarded by President Bush and were given a tour of the oval office.”

Christie said they may not be able to stop child exploitation, but they can slow it.

He added that in New Jersey, they prosecutemore cases on human trafficking than any other district.

“I believe this is the case because the state has become such a melting pot,” said Christie. “These people can blend into neighborhoods without notice.”

Terrorism

Christie said it’s important for the people of the United States to not be lulled into a false sense of security when it comes to terrorism.

“Ramzi Yousef was tried and convicted in federal court in Manhattan for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing,” he said.

“As he was being airlifted to the super maximum security prison in Colorado, leaving Manhattan passing the World Trade Center, he reportedly said ‘Next time, we will take the buildings down’ … that was in 1995,” said Christie. “These people don’t wear wristwatches, they don’t judge themselves on time. They judge themselves on how successful their long sweep of history was … these people think wiping America off the map will preserve and enhance their walks of life … we must never forget what happened on 9/11. If we do, it will be a disrespect to the 3,000 people who died that day and their families who have to live every day without them.”

Christie touched upon the “Fort Dix Six” trial in Camden County and said it is important to realize that terrorism has become more and more domestic.

“These people on trial were working and living in Mount Laurel and Cherry Hill. Their kids played youth sports. They hosted pool parties around their neighborhoods … ,” he said. “It was the suspicious employee at CircuitCitywhowasmaking a copy of their training video, who contacted the Mercer County police, who then contacted us. And that was how we became involved. To think about it, 10 or 20 years ago, police would respond, make a report, and nothing would have come of it. We are working more and more with local police departments, who know their towns and can notice something when it is suspicious.”

Political corruption

Christie said political corruption is the rot from within that eats away at us.

“People start losing faith and trust in their government and forget to participate in their constitutional right to vote,” he said. “The majority, an overwhelming number, of these people are good, normal and hardworking people serving this state.”

Christie, who said he has a good working relationship with state Attorney General Anne Milgram, said it is not a partisan issue.

“When these politicians become corrupt, it is an issue of power,” he said.

Christie and Milgram tried the recent Sharpe James case, where the former mayor of Newark was found guilty of 25 counts of corruption and in July was sentenced to 27 months in prison.

Within the last seven years, Christie said there have been more than 130 convictions of elected and appointed political officials without an acquittal.

“We have had enough [of political corruption]. Not only can we do better, but we must leave a better place for our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren to live,” he said.

Contact Kathy Chang at

kchang@gmnews.com.