By Matthew Arco | November 13th, 2012 - 1:38pm
| More

TRENTON – Prosecutors’ star witness in Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo’s bribery trial told jurors she donated heavily to the mayor’s campaign to gain influence and retain her lucrative contract with the township’s school district.

Maria Ljuba, a former close friend of the embattled mayor, took to the witness stand Tuesday. Ljuba told jurors she donated between $8,000 and $15,000 to the mayor’s campaign and to Hamilton Republicans, “way more” than the legal limit, in an attempt to gain influence.

“I had a very lucrative contract with the school district and I never wanted to lose that contract,” she said.

Ljuba described using “straw contributions” in an effort to donate more than was legally permissible and evading state ELEC laws.

Bencivengo came face-to-face with his former friend in the courtroom during day one of his criminal trial.

The sitting mayor sat across the room from Ljuba, who prosecutors say recorded the mayor accepting thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for using his influence to help her retain her contract with the township’s school district.

Ljuba also testified that she gave Hamilton school board members thousands of dollars worth of gifts in an effort to retain influence. Gifts ranged from trips to Disneyland to giving thousands of dollars for members to purchase new clothes, she said.

Bencivengo’s attorney told jurors during opening arguments that Ljuba essentially threw her former friend under the bus after she was approached by the FBI last year. His attorney, Jerome Ballarotto, described Ljuba as a corrupted insurance broker who gave his client a loan and then turned on him to save herself from criminal charges.

She testified that she was approached by former township official Rob Warney about getting money to Bencivengo, who was underwater with bills and needed assistance paying back taxes.

“He had told me that he was going to need help,” she said, referring to a telephone conversation between her and the mayor sometime after her discussion with Warney.

She described how she and the mayor decided she would write a $5,000 check to Warney’s wife, and that Ljuba’s husband would sign the check so it could not be traced directly to her. Ljuba told the jury they thought a criminal case against them would get thrown out on “a technicality” if they ever got caught.

The memo on the check said the $5,000 was for a “cherry bedroom set.” Ljuba said it was Bencivengo’s idea to write that in the memo.

Wake-Up Call

Morning Digest: September 30th

Dems fail to pry sufficient number from abstemious GOP caucus to pass debt report bill TRENTON - The Assembly this afternoon could not summon the necessary votes to override Gov. Chris Christie's veto of A961, as Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21) prevented Democrats - some of them outraged...

Op-Ed

Legislation needed for publicly financed gubernatorial elections

By JEFF BRINDLE It is critical that the Legislature soon enact a pending bill that would ensure the state’s Gubernatorial Public Financing Program is available in the event of a special election for governor.  Not only is there no current legal... Read More >

Contributors

In tribute to John Sheridan, a good and great man     I first learned late last night from television news that John P. Sheridan, Jr. and his wife, Joyce had... more »
(9-24-14) The Founding Fathers and the Militarization of the Police - No matter what the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri decides, the debate over the militarization of... more »
(Trenton, NJ) --  On September 23, 2015 I shall dig this up and eat whatever crow I've got coming, but in the meantime only a listicle... more »
 The following letter was sent today to Republican state legislators, county chairs, state committee members, and New Hampshire... more »

Quote of the Day

quote of the day

"When you're asked to cast a vote on a bill and it seems innocuous, and it's got a hidden land mine that perhaps only an expert would see, it would sort of behoove those experts to tell us in advance rather than make us look, shall we say, a little bit indecisive later on." - Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-25).

- NJTV

Poll

Which of these "Mount Rushmore of Corruption" states deserves the centerpiece?:

Blogroll

Visit the PolitickerNJ.com/resources page for links to the best collection of information on New Jersey state government.

 

  • Polls
  • The best blogs
  • Columnists
  • State election results
  • Assembly election results
  • Local party websites
  • And more.

PolitickerNJ.com/resources