Monday, August 10, 2015

Court allows Christie to hide $1 million in Amex charges

ENTOURAGE: Gov. Chris Christie keeps secret $1 million in security travel expenses

By Mark Lagerkvist | New Jersey Watchdog

Based on secret evidence, a New Jersey court is allowing Gov. Chris Christie to hide American Express bills that show how his state police security team charged more than $1 million to pay for out-of-state travel.

Judge Mary C. Jacobson dismissed a public records suit by New Jersey Watchdog on Friday, ruling that details of past expenses for food, lodging and transportation could create a potential security risk for the governor in the future.

“The court finds the general interest of the public to have a breakdown pales in comparison,” said Jacobson during a hearing in Mercer County Superior Court. As a result, state taxpayers may never learn how the money was spent.

The Executive Protection Unit travel expenses increased with the frequency of Christie’s out-of-state trips to pursue his political ambitions, including his run for the White House. Last year, costs totaled $494,420 as the governor traveled outside New Jersey for more than 100 days. That sum is 22 times more than the $21,704 spent in 2009, former Gov. Jon Corzine’s last year in office.

Jacobson based her decision on a confidential sworn statement provided by Capt. Kevin Cowan, head of the EPU. “He unequivocally swears in that certification that release of the information would increase the risk of harm to the governor,” said the judge.

New Jersey Watchdog’s lawyer was not allowed to view or question that evidence, which makes any appeal difficult.

Christie almost blew his own defense by his comments to a Cub Scout at an April town hall meeting in Hasbrouck Heights.

“How many bodyguards do you have?” 7-year-old Charles Tartaglia asked Christie in a video posted on YouTube by the governor’s office.

“I count about six,” responded the governor, scanning a crowded VFW hall. “I’m not telling you which ones they are, but a subtle hint would be — the guys with the wires in their ears.”

Christie told the audience that 30 state police troopers are assigned to EPU. He said he is routinely accompanied by three officers. The around-the-clock protection also includes troopers stationed at his home.

But in court filings, his office had claimed that same information must be kept secret to avoid endangering the governor.

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