Prosecutor ends probe of New Jersey Sen. Torricelli's finances without charges filed

Thursday, January 3rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ The federal investigation of U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli's finances has ended without charges filed, prosecutors said Thursday.

U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, who is stepping down, said she reached the decision after ``an exhaustive investigation'' by her office, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Customs Service.

The U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan ``has referred information developed in the course of the investigation to the Ethics Committee of the United States Senate,'' she said in a one-page statement.

In Washington, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson said he was satisfied with White's decision.

Torricelli, who has said he will be a candidate for a second term in 2002, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Torricelli, D-N.J., was under investigation into whether he had taken illegal gifts and cash from a donor, David Chang.

The senator has repeatedly insisted he did nothing out of the ordinary to assist Chang, whose accusations were central to the investigation.

Chang pleaded guilty to making $53,700 in illegal donations to Torricelli's 1996 Senate campaign and agreed last year to work with investigators. He has told prosecutors that the senator accepted gifts in return for intervening in Chang's business deals in North and South Korea.

Torricelli, a former congressman who won the Senate seat formerly held by Bill Bradley, has said he never did anything illegal in his five-year relationship with Chang, and denied taking any illegal gifts.

Federal law bars public officials from taking gifts in return for specific official actions, even if those actions are merely promised and not taken.

Senate ethics rules do allow some gifts from long-standing friends, and Torricelli has said he once considered Chang a friend.

Attorney General John Ashcroft decided in March that White would stay on as a rare Democratic holdover in the Bush administration, citing the importance of her ongoing investigations. But in November she announced she was leaving. Monday is her last day.

White's office also has investigated former President Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, the ex-husband of a Democratic fund-raiser, and Clinton's commutation of the sentences of four men from a Hasidic community that overwhelmingly backed Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate bid.

White has not commented on the status of the pardon case. The Clintons have denied wrongdoing.

The separate grand jury inquiries of Clinton and Torricelli were reportedly winding down before Sept. 11, when the terrorist attacks shifted attention away from them.

When White announced her departure, she said she expected ``an orderly transition of pending matters'' to the new U.S. attorney for Manhattan, James Comey.