WASHINGTON – Contributions to New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli's legal defense fund topped $1.5 million by the time a federal prosecutor closed a criminal investigation of his finances.
The fund collected $257,000 in the final three months of 2001, according to the latest quarterly report filed with Congress. The fund paid $262,000 in legal bills, plus $5,000 in consulting fees to Susan Torricelli, the Democratic senator's ex-wife and chief fund-raiser.
All told, the fund raised about $1.54 million and spent about $1.37 million in the 13 months since Torricelli created it.
Torricelli continues to raise money. He still has legal bills from the criminal investigation and his lawyers will do further work for him during the inquiry by the Senate ethics committee.
Torricelli formed the defense fund in December 2000 in response to a federal investigation into his personal and political finances. Seven people pleaded guilty to making illegal donations to his 1996 Senate campaign.
Torricelli is paying some legal bills through a separate campaign account. He has pledged to cover his own legal bills as well as those incurred by aides who worked on his 1996 campaign for the Senate.
U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White announced Jan. 3 that she was closing the three-year investigation of Torricelli without filing criminal charges. She did, however, send material collected during the investigation to the ethics panel.
The committee's chairman, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., says he is weighing calls from watchdog groups to recuse himself from the Torricelli matter because he donated $500 last year to the defense fund.
By law, donors can give up to $10,000 to a legal defense fund.
Roberta Stern, an executive assistant in Torricelli's Newark office, opened her own legal defense fund in March 2001. Her latest report shows she received $15,200 in contributions over the past three months and spent $20,548.