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N.J. Senator Torricelli cleared in federal probe

Sen. Robert Torricelli
Sen. Robert Torricelli's campaign finances were being investigated.  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- No charges will be filed against U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli in the government's criminal investigation into campaign contributions given to him during his Senate race in 1996, a federal prosecutor said Thursday.

Outgoing U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White said she has forwarded information uncovered during the investigation of Torricelli, D-New Jersey, to the Senate Ethics Committee.

Torricelli had been suspected of taking illegal gifts and cash from a campaign contributor, businessman and former friend David Chang.

The first-term senator, who is up for re-election this year, issued a statement Thursday thanking his supporters for standing behind him during a "lengthy and personally painful experience."

Chang pleaded guilty in 2000 to making $53,700 in illegal contributions to Torricelli's campaign and to witness tampering in connection with the federal investigation. He then agreed to cooperate in the probe.

Chang told prosecutors that Torricelli accepted more than $20,000 in gifts -- such as Rolex and Concord watches, Italian designer suits and an Oriental rug -- in exchange for helping Chang with business deals in North and South Korea.

Torricelli called the probe "unwarranted" and dismissed Chang as a liar.

State Department records showed that the senator -- accompanied by Chang -- visited top officials in the Koreas in 1999.

In 1995, Chang claimed North Korea owed him $71 million in grain shipments. Torricelli subsequently arranged meetings for Chang at the State Department in an effort to get access to frozen North Korean assets in U.S. banks.

In a one-page statement, White said her decision came after an exhaustive investigation by her office and agents of the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Customs Service.

After her announcement, Deputy Attorney General Larry D. Thompson issued a statement saying, "I am satisfied that after a thorough investigation, Ms. White and her office have appropriately exercised their prosecutorial discretion, in keeping with the department's long-standing guidelines."

Torricelli said in his statement that he spent every day "during this ordeal" trying to be "as good a senator as I could be."

In a separate statement, his lawyers said accused Chang of being a "pathological liar" and said there was never any doubt their client was "totally innocent of any wrongdoing."

They urged the Senate Ethics Committee, which is conducting a separate probe of Torricelli's behavior, to reach the same conclusion as criminal investigators.

-- From CNN Moneyline Investigative Correspondent Allan Dodds Frank




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