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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

Jury deliberating Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo case

After four days of testimony and arguments from the lawyers, Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo's fate rests with the 12 members of the jury.

They'll decide his guilt or innocence in the face charges related to the federal corruption case against him, stemming from $12,400 he received from the FBI's cooperating witness, Marliese Ljuba.

The prosecution alleges he took the money as a bribe from Ljuba in exchange for his influence with members of the school board so that she might be able to keep her lucrative health insurance brokerage there.

Bencivengo's defense though, has asserted he took the money as a loan from a friend which he intended to pay back.

Both sides argued most points of the case yesterday and even brought out several new ones, including a lawsuit settlement that brought Bencivengo tens of thousands of dollars weeks after accepting $7,400 from Ljuba last July.

“It’s been suggested to you (the jury) that Mrs. Ljuba is the puppetmaster; where she is pulling the strings of the mayor and everyone else in town,” said Assistant US Attorney Dustin Chao in his rebuttal argument. “He’s sitting on $24,000, not using a dime to pay property or income taxes. Who is manipulating who?”

After selecting a foreperson yesterday, the jury adjourned for the night before returning this morning. The charges carry a maximum of 20 years in jail each and a guilty verdict on any one could remove Bencivengo from office. They are 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.

A guilty Bencivengo would be removed from office and Council President Kevin Meara would take over as mayor for as much as 30 days. In the interim, the municipal Republican party would 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 would be removed from office if he was found guilty. Meara said he had consulted with lawyers who had differing opinions over exactly when the mayor would need to be out of office.


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