Hughes Justice Complex Hughes Justice Complex. Photo by Carmen Natale

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has tapped a veteran federal prosecutor to head a new anti-corruption unit within the Division of Criminal Justice.

In a release Monday, Grewal said Deputy U.S. Attorney General Thomas Eicher has been named as the director of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability.

The appointment became effective the same day, though it appears it will be a some time before the unit is fully functional.

“OPIA will investigate and prosecute abuses of the public trust and handle other sensitive matters that implicate the public’s confidence in both government and the criminal justice system,” Grewal said in a statement.

Eicher will report directly to Grewal and will not have to go through the department’s other management levels, according to the release.

Eicher will be “outside the normal reporting chain of the Division of Criminal Justice,” Grewal said in the statement.

OPIA will investigate and prosecute allegations of public corruption or breaches of integrity at the local, state and federal level, Grewal said.

“Simply put, we must hold accountable those who violate the public trust or undermine the criminal justice system,” he said.

Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for Grewal, said Monday the office was not prepared to discuss staffing levels for the new unit, but said: ”We expect Eicher to hire additional staff, and so we anticipate it will take several months for OPIA to be fully up and running.”

Corruption cases that are currently being prosecuted, or which are in the  pipeline, will continue on their present course, although prosecutors and investigators in charge of those cases will now report directly to Eicher, Aseltine said.

The OPIA also will focus resources on claims of wrongful convictions, according to the office.

“Our democracy cannot function unless it has the confidence of all the people it serves, and I am committed to working with Attorney General Grewal to strengthen that confidence,” Eicher said in a statement.

Eicher is a graduate of Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He joined the Department of Justice in 1987 after spending a period of time in private practice in California. From 1992 to 1997, he was a member of the DOJ’s House Bank Task Force, which investigated and prosecuted campaign finance violations, obstruction of justice, bank fraud and bribery among members of Congress. In 2003, he joined the U.S Attorney’s Office in New Jersey, and since 2010 has been chief of the office’s Criminal Division. Earlier this year, Eicher was promoted to deputy attorney general and was placed in charge of the office’s outposts in Trenton and Camden.