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Covering Hamilton and Robbinsville townships in-depth for The Trentonian. I can be reached at (609) 989-7800 ext. 207 or (609) 468-6962. Email me at or follow me @awisefool.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bencivengo scandal reaches Board of Ed...again.

At last night's Board of Education meeting, longtime critic of the Board George Fisher made an unusual presentation.

During the public comment section of the meeting, he brought out these photos showing Board Member Ron Tola, and members of the administration with the woman identified as the cooperating witness in the FBI's case against Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo.

From left to right: Business Administrator Joe Tramontana, district attorney William Burns, Tola and Marliese Ljuba, former agent of Vineland-based insurance broker Allen Associates at a thank-you party for Tola's victory in 2009.
Ljuba, Tramontana and Tola from a fundraiser for the latter's campaign in 2009.

Fisher said they showed a pattern on the part of the business of the board for too-close relations with its vendors. At the time of the photos, Ljuba's company was acting as the district's insurance broker.

“There are supposed to be at-arms-lengths dealings between the vendors and the administration,” said  Fisher, the three-time candidate for board. “You can’t have at-arms-length dealings when you are socializing with the vendor.”

Tola, for his part, said the photos were taken out of context. He said he had a number of fundraisers for his campaign, and she attended one of them and the victory party.

The pictures were shown after the board voted for the superintendent to investigate practices that resulted in the district being cited and penalized $25,000 by the state for mishandling its dealings with Allen Associates.

Tola and other members of the board had been discussing such an investigation for weeks before the meeting.

“There was a culture that existed under previous superintendent and CEO of non-bidding,” Tola said.

The administration, Tola said, had done that without informing the board of its actions, a practice which current superintendent James Parla said has changed.

"The administration was telling us things that were not accurate," he said.

Ljuba has been identified by sources as the cooperating witness in the federal corruption case against Bencivengo. He allegedly received $12,400 in a bribe from her in order to influence a member of the school board on behalf of her employer.

He has maintained his innocence, stating in a financial disclosure filed after his arrest that the money was a loan from a friend and not a bribe.


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