The U.S. Department of Justice has started an inquiry into its internal practices after the law firm of former Attorney General John Ashcroft was named to oversee business practices of Warsaw-based prosthetics maker Zimmer Holdings Inc.
Current Attorney General Michael Mukasey and some aides fear the department appears to be in a conflict of interest, because one of Ashcroft’s former underlings, New Jersey prosecutor Christopher Christie, appointed Ashcroft Group to supervise Zimmer following a criminal investigation into alleged kickbacks to doctors.
Mukasey has made a point of ridding the department of political influences after his predecessor and Ashcroft’s successor, Alberto Gonzales, became entangled in a string of scandals.
The internal review was reported in today’s New York Times.
The Justice Department issued a statement saying the review was not prompted by the Ashcroft contract.
The Department settled the kickback charges out of court last fall.
Christie, a U.S. attorney, suggested to Zimmer that it hire Ashcroft Group to monitor its practices. The 18-month contract is valued at $28 million to $52 million.
Christie has steered additional monitoring contracts to other former Justice coworkers.
Under President Bush, such agreements with federal prosecutors mushroomed to 35 in 2007 from five in 2003. The out-of-court settlements spare companies indictments and trials.