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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.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wrap up of Bencivengo trial: Day two

So for those of you who haven't been following this riveting trial, here's a quick update:

Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo and his soon-to-be-ex wife may take the stand as part of his defense tomorrow

Defense attorney Jerome Ballarotto said the mayor would make the decision about testifying that night. He said Donna Bencivengo, the mayor’s estranged wife, may also be called to testify and they would waive the privilege of communication between spouses.

Ballarotto made that announcement after the prosecution rested its case after two full days of testimony and Federal District Judge Anne Thompson denied a request from him to dismiss the case; she denied it and said the “astounding” testimony would need to go to a jury.

“’I love you’ and a kiss does not upturn the proofs that I have been presented,” she said.

Much of the morning’s testimony concentrated on those kisses passed between Bencivengo and Marliese Ljuba, the government’s key witness in the case. Ballarotto questioned her about the alleged bribery, her cooperation with the FBI and her close friendship with the mayor.

Ballarotto, in his cross examinations of the government’s three witnesses, set to poke holes in the prosecutors’ argument that Ljuba gave Bencivengo $12,400 in bribes to influence two member of the school board in particular: Board President Patty Del Giudice and Board Member Stephanie Pratico.

He continued a line of argument from Tuesday; Ljuba, a “dear friend and political ally” of Bencivengo, lent him money while he was in need, then turned to cooperate with the FBI when she saw she was in trouble.

In the afternoon, the prosecution presented testimony from by FBI Agent Stephen Montgomery , who took over the case in December 2011, and admitted middleman, Rob Warney, former school board member who resigned his position as the Director of Community Planning and Compliance in Hamilton to plead guilty to money laundering.

Ballarotto may also call Deanna Nelson, Stacy Bencivengo and retired FBI Agent William Monks, who handled the investigation before he retired in February. Ballarotto said his questioning of Monks would be limited.

Now for some of the stuff that we couldn't fit into the paper:

The judge has made it very obvious she plans for the case to conclude tomorrow so the jury can begin deliberations. She said they will not be sequestered.

The prosecution is planning an hour and a half for its summation of the case tomorrow.

"I will make it as short and as concise as I possibly can," said AUSA Harvey Bartle.

Judge Thompson also emphasized that just because Warney had plead guilty it did not mean anything for Bencivengo's case.

Warney said he approached Ljuba at the 2011 Mayor’s ball to talk about the mayor’s financial situation. Ljuba told him to have Bencivengo speak to her directly.

Bencivengo was the best man at Warney's wedding.

Warney said when a school district budget gets rejected by voters, as happened in 2010, the township needs to approve it, giving the mayor some official say in the school district's functions.

Warney also said Bencivengo told him the $5,000 from the payment in Atlantic City was won at the roulette table. Bencivengo said he hit black 13 straight times.

Ljuba said she told Del Giudice about her contributions to her slate, but did not tell Pratico or Board Member Joe Malagrino.

Ljuba said she told the Tramontana's about the investigation and Cathy Tramontana, the Director of Health and Recreation in Hamilton, is her "best friend."

Ljuba said her husband helped her pass along payments and bribes over the years, but did not expect he would be prosecuted, either.
The Ljubas and Tramontanas met in June after he was approached by the FBI. After that meeting and after she received an immunity agreement from the USAO, Ljuba told the FBI she had told the Tramontanas about the investigation.

Random facts: Neil Bencivengo, the former superintendent, is John Bencivengo's cousin.


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