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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.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo found guilty on all counts.

Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo is guilty.

The jury, after deliberating for more than four hours, convicted him of all five federal corruption counts against Bencivengo, which could send him to prison for decades. He will be sentenced in February.

The verdict closes a chapter in the scandal that has rocked Hamilton. But the testimony from the case has blown off a lid in the controversy surrounding the school board’s practices, which has already resulted in the firing of one township official and administrative leave for the business administrator of the school district.

The prosecution alleged that Bencivengo took the $12,400 in exchange for influencing two school board members so that Ljuba could keep her lucrative health insurance brokerage with Hamilton School District. The charges carry a maximum of 20 years in jail each and a guilty verdict on any one could remove Bencivengo from office.

“This isn’t about friendship this is about business,” AUSA Harvey Bartle said. “There’s a Latin phrase for that. It’s called quid pro quo, something for something.”

Defense attorney Jerome Ballarotto in defending the mayor from those charges, which largely rests on the recordings made by Ljuba and her courtroom testimony, tried to pull out inconsistencies in the prosecution testimony, recordings and investigation. Ljuba also received immunity from prosecution for her crimes in exchange for her testimony against Bencivengo.

The mayor was charged with extortion under color of official right, attempted extortion under color of official right, two violations of the travel act and one charge of money laundering.

“The prosecution’s case is nothing but suspicion and conjecture and not beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.

The guilty Bencivengo will be removed from office and Council President Kevin Meara will take over as mayor for as much as 30 days. In the interim, the municipal Republican party will provide three nominees to town council. The council would then select one of those three to serve as mayor until next November.

Then, there would be a special election to fill the rest of Bencivengo's term, which lasts until 2015.

It is unclear exactly when the mayor will be removed from office. Meara said he had consulted with lawyers who had differing opinions over exactly when the mayor would need to be out of office, including immediately, based on a resignation, court action or at sentencing.


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