A few weeks into the job, N.J. attorney general outlines priorities

New Jersey’s new attorney general has known Gov. Chris Christie for a long time. Jeff Chiesa met Christie in the 1980s at the law firm where they both worked. When Christie was appointed the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, Chiesa followed him there. After being elected governor in 2009, Christie tapped Chiesa to be his chief counsel.

Despite his two years as Christie’s chief counsel, Chiesa is well respected by lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle. He’s been on the job only for a few weeks but already has specific plans for what he wants to accomplish as attorney general.

One of his big concerns is dealing with the violence that’s related to gang activity, Chiesa said.

“These gangs try to infiltrate whatever communities they can, wherever they can find vulnerable people, to try to co-opt them into enforcing them into joining these gangs,” said Chiesa. “So it’s not just limited to urban centers. It’s outside the urban centers. It’s a bigger problem in the urban centers because of the size of the population of the gangs there and because they actively recruit members from those communities.”

With reductions in local police manpower because of budget cuts, Chiesa says the state is monitoring the situation and will offer the assistance that it can.

“We’re in a number of these communities right now, both though our efforts to disrupt, for example, drug-distribution networks or through our efforts to identify gun trafficking because those really go to the heart of the gang.

“And the gangs make up a lot of the inner city violence, what the gangs are doing and how they fund their operations,” he said.

Public corruption is another focus

Another of Chiesa’s priorities is dealing with public corruption. While mail-fraud and wire-fraud statutes give federal prosecutors more tools to prosecute those cases, Chiesa says the state will also make aggressive efforts.

“That’s the only way to maintain the public’s confidence in the government,” he said. “If people are self-dealing, if people are simply in public life to enrich themselves, and the overwhelming number of people are not, they’re in public life for the right reasons, but for those few people that are enriching themselves, they’ll be targeted and we’ll deal with them as aggressively as we can.”

While he would not comment on specific plans and methods, Chiesa says cracking down on child pornography is also high on his agenda.

“These are not victimless crimes,” he said. “These are kids that are tortured on tape for the gratification of adults. If we can eradicate the demand by deterring it with significant sentences for both the people that view it and the people that distribute it, certainly the people that manufacture it, we’re going to … create a situation where it’s less likely that people are going to want to engage in commercially producing those materials.”

Law enforcement is not the only focus for the attorney general. The office also handles civil rights and consumer fraud cases. Chiesa says recent changes in the Division of Gaming Enforcement’s regulatory structure will help Atlantic City.

“We examined these things very closely, not to make it more likely that criminal behavior will get involved in this regulated industry, but to make sure that we were acting in a way that’d stifle other opportunities and to stifle other casinos from wanting to open up here,” he said.

Office has eye on Atlantic City

Chiesa says New Jersey is progressing with efforts to make the Atlantic City tourism district a safer place to attract more families. After only a few weeks in his new role, Chiesa acknowledges the job is demanding, but he is excited about it.

“I know how serious the job is and how broad our mission is and how important the work we do is, so while I understand I have to be careful in how I allocate my time and how I do this job, I don’t expect to have any burnout issues,” said Chiesa.

Lawmakers at his confirmation hearing praised Chiesa for not being partisan in his dealings with them. He said he’ll be entirely apolitical in handling the criminal matters that go though the attorney general’s office.

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