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Christie Faces New Probe Over Sandy Funds

posted 13 Jan 2014, 14:16 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 13 Jan 2014, 14:16 ]

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is facing new allegations about misusing funds allocated for relief efforts following Hurricane Sandy.

BAY HEAD, NEW JERSEY, UNITED STATES  (NBC) -  U.S. investigators are looking into whether embattled New JerseyGovernor Chris Christie misused about $2 million (USD) in Superstorm Sandy relief funds for an ad campaign that put him in the spotlight in an election year, officials said on Monday (January 13).

Already enmeshed in a scandal over snarled traffic at the George Washington Bridge, Christie, a likely 2016 Republican presidential contender, is now being audited by the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an agency spokesman said.

The probe began after HUD "received a request from Congress," the spokesman said.

New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone Jr., a Democrat, told the press on Monday that he reported the alleged fund misuse to HUD.

The inspector is focusing on a federally financed $25 million Jersey Shore marketing campaign that included a television commercial featuring Christie and his family. The ad cost $2 million more than a competing bid without them.

Pallone said he is concerned the money was "manipulated" to support Christie's re-election campaign.

"Basically the Christie administration took the firm that was the high bidder, that was charging twice as much, in this case $4.7 million (USD) instead of the two point five. And, you know, that was the firm that said that they were going to put him and his family on, you know, to do the ad campaign with him and his family and the other wasn't," said Pallone.

The winning ad, with the tag line that New Jersey was "Stronger than the Storm," aired in the spring as Christie headed into a re-election campaign to win a second term.

Sandy devastated New YorkNew Jersey and other parts of the East Coast on October 29, 2012. The storm killed at least 159 people and damaged or destroyed more than 650,000 homes, many in Pallone's district on the Jersey Shore, where the storm made landfall.

"I don't think there's any question that this was an effort to promote him. But the problem is, it was at the expense of money from the taxpayers that could have been used for other Sandy purposes. And I represent the area that was hardest hit by Sandy, people are still looking for money now, so I think it smells," Pallone told reporters.

There was no immediate response to calls and e-mails to Christie's office for comment.

Several organizations have launched Internet campaigns calling for Christie's resignation. Three sites, MoveOn.org, Credo Mobilize and Working Families have collected more than 23,000 signatures between them.

The Democratically controlled New Jersey state Assembly on Monday said it had formed a new special investigatory committee with subpoena power to probe the bridge incident, nicknamed "Bridgegate" by local newspapers.

E-mails released last week showed the massive September traffic jam was orchestrated by Christie's staff, apparently as political payback against the mayor ofFort LeeNew Jersey, who did not endorse Christie for re-election.

Other Democratic mayors of New Jersey municipalities who declined to endorse Christie said they believe they were punished too. Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulopsaid in a statement that Christie administration officials abruptly canceled several meetings with him the day after he said no. WNYC radio reported that HobokenMayor Dawn Zimmer said after her refusal, her city got only 1 percent of the disaster grants requested to rebuild after Sandy.

Christie last week fired a top aide who called for the closure of lanes to the George Washington Bridge. He has denied knowledge of the his aide's role in triggering the four-day incident, which paralyzed Fort Lee, on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River.

News of the audit arrives on the eve of Christie's annual State of the State address in Trenton on Tuesday (January 14), which kicks off a second term he won in a landslide.

U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman, whose job Christie held before being elected governor, has opened an investigation of the decision to close the lanes leading to the bridge, which paralyzed traffic.

The governor also faces a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court on Thursday by Rosemarie Arnold, a lawyer charging that area residents suffered financially from being trapped in traffic.


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