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Ex-Prosecutor Urges Legislative Probe In Hunterdon Sheriff’s Case

Hariri and Guadagno have not responded to repeated requests for interviews from NJ Spotlight this week nor have they commented previously on the case in the four months since the New York Times broke the story a month before Christie’s landslide reelection or after it became national news on networks like CNN and MSNBC.

Conspiracy Theories

Christie denied involvement in the dismissal of the indictments in late 2010, and Michael Drewniak, the governor’s press secretary, attacked Barlyn’s allegations as “wild-eyed conspiracy theories” in the New York Times last October.

However, Barlyn and Ouslander insist that prosecution of the Trout case would have been highly embarrassing for Dr. Hariri, the multimillionaire Celgene CEO. The Hariris, who gave $15,500 to Christie’s campaign and the Republican State Committee, own a Bernardsville estate and were neighbors in 2009 and 2010 of Todd Christie, the “First Brother” who is Christie’s top fundraiser. Hariri served on Christie’s 2009 transition team on health issues.

Hariri’s involvement in the case also would have been embarrassing to his subsidiary’s parent company, Celgene, whose chairman, Dr. Sol Barer, later headed Christie’s panel that recommended the merger of the state’s medical schools into Rutgers University, accompanied Christie on his trip to Israel, and has given at least $102,600 personally to Christie and the state GOP since 2009.

Hariri, a world-famous stem cell research entrepreneur whom Christie named to the prestigious New Jersey Council on Cancer Research, was named in the Trout indictment as a witness after receiving a fake “National Emergency Medical Response Team” badge manufactured for him by Undersheriff Michael Russo and sheriff’s investigator John Falat Jr., the two sheriff’s officers indicted along with Trout, after he flew Trout and Russo to a conference on a private jet.

Hariri was very friendly with Trout, Russo and Falat – a controversial trio who had been part of a rogue Warren County SPCA chapter that the State Commission of Investigation called an “out-of-control . . . paramilitary” organization that existed primarily to enrich its members. Russo, the chapter’s second-in-command, took the Fifth Amendment in the 2000 probe. The extent of that friendship would have come out in any trial or if Barlyn succeeds in getting the grand jury transcripts, which would include details of Hariri’s interview with investigators, unsealed.

Unlike the Bridgegate and Hoboken cases, in which Republicans have defended Christie, Hunterdon County’s Republican establishment says privately -- and one former freeholder says publicly -- that the Christie administration killed the Trout, Russo, and Falat indictments for political reasons.

“This is still very upsetting to me,” said George Melick, a staunch Republican who retired last month after 35 years as a Hunterdon County freeholder. “I can’t imagine to this day the attorney general’s office sending a new prosecutor up here and getting these indictments thrown out after 23 citizens of Hunterdon County spent all that time, listened to all that testimony lined up by very able prosecutors, and decided there was reason to charge the Sheriff’s Office on 43 counts.

“This all goes back to Trenton,” Melick insisted. “That’s where the decisions were made. I’m very supportive of Barlyn and find him very credible. I hope Barlyn is successful in his lawsuit because these grand jury documents should see the light of day so that the public can make its own judgment on the merits of the prosecution.”

One well-placed Republican, an active Christie supporter who asked not to be identified in order to speak candidly, said “I don’t have any doubt the governor’s office wanted the indictment to go away. Dr. Hariri from Celgene was a big donor, and he got in deep with these people, flying them around the country. Deborah (Trout) was the face of the operation, but Russo was the brains. He was a Svengali who ingratiated himself with the governor and his staff and with Hariri too. He could sell ice to Eskimos.”

The Republican said the Sheriff’s Office “operated with the worst kind of cronyism,” and that Trout “gave out ID’s and badges like she was giving out campaign pins.” The source said the trial would be an embarrassment to Hariri. “I would bet this guy went through Todd Christie or Dr. Barer to have them tell the Christie administration to get rid of this thing. We know how this governor operates.”

William Courtney, attorney for Trout, Russo and Falat in their wrongful arrest lawsuit, charged that the original indictment was part of a political vendetta by the freeholders against Trout, who had won an $800,000 settlement in a discrimination suit years before she ran for sheriff.

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