What's Worse: Human Trafficking or Public Corruption?

Pick your poison: crooked elected officials, or human trafficking? Apparently, that's the kind of choice you make when you're a U.S. Attorney. Which is how Chris Christie ended up going relatively easy on a suspected trafficker, while nailing a shady mayor.

That's according to the Daily Beast, which looks at the case of Luisa Medrano. The New Jersey bar owner was busted in 2005, on charges of forced labor and harboring illegal aliens. Allegedly, young women smuggled from Honduras were being forced to work off tens of thousands of dollars—on tiny salaries, dancing and "entertaining" male patrons. The details are horrifying. Here's what court docs happened to girl who turned up pregnant:

The girl was given $300 for an abortion, but the clinic refused because she was too far along. The next day, the enforcer made the girl "to ingest pills designed to induce spontaneous abortion." The girl became ill, and the next day gave birth to a live baby girl, who then died. She was brought to the hospital, where enforcers threatened her that she would be imprisoned if she told anyone the truth about the birth.

At the time, Christie—then a U.S. Attorney—said: "This was inhumane and sadistic treatment of young women who were kept as virtual slaves," calling the crimes "vile" and promising to throw the book everyone involved. And yet ultimately, Medrano did just six months of house arrest and three years of probation. Why's that?

Back in 2009, a Christie spokesman claimed Medrano helped convict others involved in the smuggling ring. But her attorney and court records both say she never testified about human smuggling, nor would the U.S. Attorney's office provide details. However, Medrano did help put away local mayor David Delle Donna, accused of corruption. She testified about exchanging very expensive gifts with his wife and, allegedly, handing over $5,000 in campaign cash.

And now we get into the New Jersey political muck portion of our story. Some critics suggest the move was more about making Democrats look dirty than anything else. At best, it's a questionable call. One observer put it this way:

However, Rick Shaftan, a Republican political consultant, said he was baffled by the results. "A human trafficker didn't go to jail, and Dave Delle Donna gets to spend three years [in prison] in Kentucky?" Shaftan added. "Usually, when somebody testifies, they're going to get somebody who's done a bigger crime, not somebody who's done a lesser crime."

Jeffrey Chiesa, on the other hand, who's worked with Christie, followed in his footsteps as U.S. Attorney, became an assistant U.S. Attorney under Christie and then Attorney General of New Jersey (corrected!) and has since been appointed by Christie to fill a senate seat, disagrees:

"The accusation is ridiculous. You're asking me my view, right? Be very careful, okay? We don't know each other. Human trafficking was one of my priorities as attorney general. I agree that's a very serious crime. What I'm telling you is there was never a time in the U.S. Attorney's office where we traded serious crimes for lesser crimes."

Government corruption is no joke, with its implicit threat to the public trust. But in this particular case, it's hard to see a little extortion and tax sketchiness as on par with the terrible abuses of which Medrano stood accused.

At any rate, whether you're convinced by the Daily Beast's argument, it's still a pretty depressing look into how the judicial sausage is made, and what can happen to a human trafficking case.

Photo via Getty.