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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.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Breakdown of the Bencivengo case and how it affects Hamilton

When Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo steps into the federal courtroom today, he will face his most public confrontation with the scandal that shook the township and school board.

Bencivengo has maintained his innocence in the face of charges that he took $12,400 in bribes in exchange for peddling his influence with members of the local school board.

Jerome Ballarotto, who represents Bencivengo told the Trentonian last month he was confident in his client’s innocence.

“It will take less than two weeks to win this case, because he is innocent of the charges,” said Ballarotto. “What, haven’t you ever heard of innocent person getting charged? … the U.S. Attorney made a mistake and shouldn’t have charged him.”

Federal agents arrested and charged Bencivengo in April, before indicting him in June. Assistant US Attorneys Harvey Bartle IV and Dustin Chao will prosecute the case.

The scandal further hit the township administration with the guilty plea and resignation of Director of Community Planning and Compliance Rob Warney after being charged with money laundering in June.

Released on a $100,000 unsecured bond, Warney could face as much as 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine at his sentencing, which is now scheduled for Dec. 5.

The board has taken a licking from the public over its handling of the federal corruption case involving its previous health insurance broker, Allen Associates. The board's behavior in that issue, taken as exemplary of the board as a whole, has become the center point of critique from the field of candidates for the four seats up for election.

In addition to the public airing of the way the board's relationship with the vendor -- which included a former board member admitting to taking bribes for a vote as part of his plea deal -- the scandal has raised questions about how the district conducts business.

The state's Department of Education stepped in to sanction the district, making four findings of deficiency in following the law and its own policy and withholding $25,000 in state aid. Specifically, the district operated without a contract from 2009, failed to specify why it didn't bid out the contract for Extraordinary Unspecified Services, failed to publicize its attempts to do so, and didn't abide by state law when extending the contract from 2006 to 2009.

Prior to new Superintendent James Parla taking over, the district used a process called comparative analysis to research pricing for contracts. It involved calling up other districts and asking what they had paid for a specific service before agreeing to a contract with a vendor, Board Member Ron Tola has said.

This practice doesn't involve a public bid process and doesn't necessarily arrive at the lowest bidder, Tola said. The relationship with Allen Associates could have cost the district millions more than it had to in commissions, said Parla, Tola and other board members.

The board dropped Allen Associates after the news of the scandal broke and is currently working with a fee-based contractor until it finds another broker.

You can find the rest of the story here.


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