Corruption charges likely in FBI’s probe in Orange, expert says, September 13, 2016

In the wake of an FBI raid of the Orange Public Library in July and a meeting between county and federal officials this week surrounding an investigation into suspected fraud, extortion, and misuse of government funding, locals are wondering what the investigation may lead to.

Thomas Calcagni, an attorney who formerly served as the second in command at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and first assistant attorney general for New Jersey, breaks down some of our questions about how the federal investigation is likely to play out from here.

Question: NJ Advance Media obtained two warrants that request very specific documents and photos pertaining to named companies and people, the library’s HVAC system, janitorial services, the Saturday Literacy Program, the senior health and wellness program, and the city’s purchase and maintenance of the YWCA building on Main Street. Is it typical for search warrants to so specifically enumerate people, projects, and programs like this? Does specificity indicate anything about the strength of the evidence federal investigators expect to find?

Calcagni: A judge issues a search warrant upon the government’s showing of probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime exists at the search location. In order to meet that threshold showing, the government is required to provide sufficient and specific reasons for its belief — typically in the form of an affidavit from a law enforcement officer. So, specificity as to the nature of the alleged criminal conduct and how it relates to the search location and information sought, is standard in a search warrant application.

Question: Once warrants like this are executed, how much more is left to the investigation? That is to say, should the public expect charges to be filed soon? What is the timeline we are looking at?

Calcagni: In order to secure a search warrant, the government needs to demonstrate to the judge’s satisfaction that there’s probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime will be found at the search location. It is the same threshold level of proof that the government needs in order to charge someone criminally. So while many factors play into whether and when the government pursues criminal charges — like its assessment of potential defenses, the course of potential plea negotiations, and the time involved in presenting matters to the Grand Jury — that the government here was able to meet the probable cause showing in securing the search warrant signals that the investigation is relatively mature and that the government has already developed a sufficient basis to charge.

Question: When federal agencies are investigating, do they only have jurisdiction over the use of federal funds that were spent by the entity, or can they prosecute based on, for example, an alleged misuse of funds that came from the state, county, or another public source?

Calcagni: In matters like this, the government is looking specifically for the misuse of federal funds, whether those federal funds were passed directly to the local project or individual, or passed through a state or county agency on the way to the local project or individual.

Question: Does it happen often that investigations reach this point and no charges are ever filed?

Calcagni: Once a search warrant is executed, brace yourself — charges generally follow.

– Jessica Mazzola