In the Fall of 1991, I attended a meeting with many of my colleagues in the Conference of Essex County Mayors. We enjoyed a non-partisan symposium in the West Orange Town Hall led by then United States Attorney, Michael Chertoff. Mr. Chertoff had, and continues to enjoy, an unassailable and unimpeachable record in public service. He served as U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, a United States Circuit Judge, Secretary of Homeland Security, top prosecutor for the United States’ Attorney General’s Division of Criminal Justice, and on and on.
Understand that at that time there was a lot of rumblings about investigations and public corruption, so his speech was highly anticipated by all of the Mayors. The one bit of the conversation that I can clearly remember is as follows – the straight-faced and uber serious U.S. Attorney turned to the group and said: “…you never know where an investigation will take you…it might start in one place and squarely end up in an unrelated or unanticipated place….” That has stuck with me for years.
Fast forward – our law firm recently added a new partner, Dennis Carletta, who worked over 13 years at the U.S. Attorney’s Office focusing on, among other things, white collar and cyber-crimes. We recently met around the water cooler and we got to talking about the investigative process. Dennis, still wearing his prosecutor’s hat, rattled off a laundry list of potential pitfalls that one could face if they make the wrong choices during an investigation. Dennis, seemingly echoing Mr. Chertoff, explained that very often missteps take investigations into many different directions and ultimately new facts and potential crimes (i.e. obstruction of justice, perjury, witness tampering, misprision of a felony, unsworn falsification, compounding, destruction of records, among others) that were never contemplated come to fruition.
If history and seasoned prosecutors can teach us anything, it is at the end of day, you never know where you will end up, or what you will uncover, until you do the work and people are forced to make choices. I have found in my experience that most, if not all, are most concerned about preserving themselves, over all others, so they can survive another day.
Kevin O’Toole is the chair of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the former state Senator from the 40th District.