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.

The Back Room

Trenton mayor's race: Worthy campaign funds surge according to filed ELEC report

Trenton mayoral candidate Walker M. Worthy, Jr. raised more than $75,000 during the most recent fundraising period, boosting his total campaign contributions to date to close to $110,000, according to a written statement issued by his campaign. 

Read More >

Wake-Up Call

Morning Digest: April 15, 2014

East Side Neighborhood Association hosts packed Paterson Mayor's Forum PATERSON – On the eastern end of Market Street stands a restaurant amid the clinging remnants of industry and a city’s trampled history, where inside under chandeliers in front of a crowd of 100 people, seven candidates for mayor made...

Op-Ed

Ryan's Budget Plan

BY ALBIO SIRES This week, Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), released yet again another budget with misplaced priorities that will slow our economic recovery and destroy American jobs.  Rather than address the priorities of the... Read More >

Contributors

(4-16-14) New Jersey Vote By Mail Law - The voter turnout for New Jersey’s November gubernatorial election was the lowest since the days of prohibition, coming... more »
When it comes to profiling Christie, facts are for wussies (4/10/14) - As the national media stories on our Guv pile up, expect more blunders about the Garden State.... more »
This week I begin a series called Dispatches from Somewhere Else. Based on my on-going experiences as an everyman in New Jersey politics, these Dispatches review the hollowness of... more »
Watching Governor Chris Christie's shocking BridgeGate implosion, it's easy to forget the time when he truly seemed unstoppable.  Blessed with incredible political gifts and a Jersey bluster to match,... more »

Quote of the Day

Quote of the day

"A break-in occurred early this morning at the offices owned by Carl Sharif and two others at 660 Stuyvesant Ave. in Irvington, New Jersey. Several items are reported missing, including two laptop computers owned by Carl Sharif. There is also reported damage in the building. The Irvington police were called and a report was filed." - Jeffries campaign spokeswoman Lupe Todd

- PolitickerNJ.com

Poll

Who does Alieta Eck want to win the CD12 Democratic Primary?:

Resources

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