If a tree falls in the forest and the New York Times doesn’t report it, does it make a sound?
POGO ponders this in light of the recent brouhaha over deferred prosecution agreements, specifically the one implemented in New Jersey by U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, in which his former boss, John Ashcroft, was awarded a multi-million dollar corporate monitor contract. Readers of this blog might remember POGO weighing in on this last month, but it was this January 10 article in the “Gray Lady” that really kicked up the dust and brought this issue to the forefront.
Last September, Christie appointed his ex-boss, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, to be the corporate monitor of a company involved in a deferred prosecution agreement with Christie’s office. Ashcroft’s consulting firm stands to earn up to $52 million on what essentially amounts to a sole source contract drawn up entirely at Christie’s discretion. The company, Zimmer Holdings, must pay for Ashcroft’s services or else face prosecution. The public might not have learned about the fee arrangement (and the entire matter might have gone largely unnoticed in the first place) had Zimmer Holdings not disclosed it in an SEC filing.
On Wednesday, the chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees – Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) – requested a GAO inquiry into deferred prosecution agreements and corporate monitor appointments. This action follows letters of inquiry Conyers and other lawmakers sent to Attorney General Michael Mukasey on these issues. According to the Times article, the Department of Justice is conducting its own investigation in order to come up with formal procedures for the selection of corporate monitors.
POGO supports efforts to add more transparency and oversight to these relatively new prosecutorial tools. However, we hope one especially important issue does not get overlooked. According to the Newark Star-Ledger, Christie did not impose criminal fines on Zimmer Holdings because he knew it would be paying substantial monitoring fees. The company is still being punished, but is the public getting short-changed if ill-gotten gains go to a corporate monitor – especially one who has connections to the prosecutor – instead of the government?
– Neil Gordon