By Shawn Boburg, The Record
HACKENSACK, N.J. — The Manhattan district attorney has launched a wide-ranging investigation into the Port Authority, issuing a subpoena for communications between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s office and agency officials, a source familiar with the matter said Saturday.
The development signaled the opening of a new legal front in the controversy surrounding New Jersey’s beleaguered chief executive.
The subpoena, issued by the office of Cyrus Vance Jr. in March, requests the communications and other documents related to the rebuilding of the World Trade Center, the Port Authority’s takeover of operations at the Atlantic City Airport and the diversion of $1.8 billion in Port Authority money for construction of New Jersey roads, the source said.
Investigators, who have already begun conducting interviews, are looking at potential conflicts of interest among commissioners and whether the Christie administration’s tapping of Port Authority funds to rebuild the Pulaski Skyway and other state-owned roads was legally authorized, a second person familiar with the investigation said.
The subpoena, served on the Port Authority, means a second law-enforcement agency, besides the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey, is looking at controversies that have emerged or attracted scrutiny in the aftermath of the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal.
The office of U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman was notified before Manhattan’s district attorney issued the subpoena and was not surprised by it, said a third source familiar with talks between the offices. It’s unclear if the two offices are conducting parallel investigations or are working in tandem.
The Manhattan prosecutors’ focus on the Pulaski Skyway follows a report in The Record last month that found Port Authority lawyers expressed concern in 2011 that diverting $1.8 billion from the agency to state roadway projects in New Jersey was not legal without approval from lawmakers in New York and New Jersey.
Christie administration officials, internal Port Authority documents show, pushed for the money anyway, requiring a creative and complex legal justification that agency attorneys privately called “questionable.” Agency lawyers declared that the roadways, all in Hudson and Essex counties, were access roads to the Port Authority’s Lincoln Tunnel, even though the roads are miles from the tunnel in Weehawken and do not directly connect to it.
Investigators in Manhattan have been looking at the Port Authority’s assertion in official statements to bondholders that the road projects, which involve the Pulaski Skyway, Route 139, Wittpenn Bridge and Portway New Road, were properly authorized, and investigating whether the move violated New York’s state securities or state income-tax laws, one of the sources said. All the roadways are owned by New Jersey.
The northbound lanes of the Pulaski Skyway were closed Saturday and will remain that way for two years during a project to rebuild the 3.5-mile span. The elevated roadway was built in the early 1930s to provide access to the Holland Tunnel and now suffers from serious structural problems.
Vance’s office is also interested in whether the Port Authority’s governor-appointed commissioners — many of whom are titans of private industry in engineering, real estate and law — have taken part in agency decisions that overlap with their private business interests, one source said.
A representative of Fishman’s office in New Jersey referred questions to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which did not respond to requests for comment through its spokeswoman. Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts declined to comment.