Federal prosecutors said yesterday that New Jersey State Sen. Wayne Bryant "grasps at straws" when he argues that a Republican-appointed U.S. attorney targeted him merely because he was a powerful Democratic lawmaker.
Bryant, a longtime figure in Camden County politics, was indicted in March on a series of political corruption charges. In motions filed in October, his attorneys accuse the U.S. Attorney's Office of "selective prosecution."
In their response, filed yesterday, prosecutors call that a "scurrilous allegation."
"Nevertheless, the United States is compelled to counter claims, even baseless ones, built on half-truths and factual misstatements, which call into question the even-handedness of its prosecutorial decisions," they wrote.
Bryant, the former chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, was accused of accepting a no-show job at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in exchange for his help in steering millions of dollars to the school.
A dean at UMDNJ's School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, R. Michael Gallagher, also was indicted, accused of arranging Bryant's job and "cooking the books" to make it appear that he actually did work there.
Both have pleaded not guilty. Bryant did not run for reelection this fall.
Bryant also was charged with holding two other public jobs, in which he was accused of doing little work, that nearly tripled the value of his public pension.
In his motion, Bryant says that many Republican lawmakers held multiple state jobs - a practice legal in New Jersey until this year - but that the U.S. attorney did not target them.
Prosecutors counter that Bryant was not charged "merely with holding multiple public-sector jobs."
"Far from it. Rather . . . he is charged with engaging in a corrupt scheme to defraud the citizens of New Jersey," they wrote. "Bryant does not identify another person, Republican, Democrat, Whig, or otherwise, who engaged in the same or similar conduct and who was not prosecuted."
Bryant asks in his motion to be able to collect evidence and at a hearing try to show that he has been the target of a politically biased prosecution.
The prosecutors urged a judge to reject that motion, as well as several others filed by Bryant and Gallagher, including one asking that the indictments be dismissed.
A hearing on the motions has been scheduled for Jan. 22 in federal court in Trenton.
U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, appointed by President Bush in 2001, has long been considered a possible Republican candidate for governor.
Christie has fended off talk of running for that office, though he has been giving speeches in the last year urging New Jersey voters to elect better leaders. In those speeches, he cites his office's record of more than 100 convictions of public figures, Republicans and Democrats.
Bryant also complained about a statement Christie made to reporters predicting that his office would win convictions against recently indicted politicians. Bryant argued that Christie's prognostication could prejudice a trial.
Prosecutors disagreed. "A rational . . . juror would certainly expect that the U.S. attorney would not authorize an indictment
he believes that the defendant would be convicted," they wrote.