TRENTON – Embattled Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo told a former friend and federal cooperating witness during secretly recorded meetings that he was “just so sick” over his financial situation.
Prosecutors hit play on audio recordings made by a former insurance broker, Maria Ljuba, in which the mayor agonized over being able to pay his bills. The recordings were played Tuesday during the sitting mayor’s criminal trial.
“I can’t keep going on like this,” Bencivengo said during a meeting with Ljuba.
“I am sick. I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said during another audio clip. “I can’t get caught up. I’m in so much (expletive) turmoil.”
During the recorded encounters, the pair discussed the mayor going to Atlantic City and claiming he won cash Ljuba planned to give him from a casino.
Prosecutors also played a secret video recording which showed Bencivengo counting $2,400 in cash given to him by Ljuba.
“Thank you,” Bencivengo said. “I love you.”
Prosecutors continued to question their star witness during day one of the mayor’s trial Tuesday that came after Bencivengo was charged in April with soliciting $12,400 in bribes to help an insurance company retain a contract with the township’s school district.
Ljuba told jurors today she was worried that she could lose her contract with the Hamilton Township School District after a member of the school board, Stephanie Pratico, suggested the board go out to bid for a new insurance contract.
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.
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"Gov. Chris Christie says he won’t campaign for the Republican gubernatorial candidate in New York because the cause is hopeless: Gov. Andrew Cuomo is ahead by more than 30 points. But he will campaign in New Hampshire, over and over, where the Republican is also trailing by more than 30 points. What’s the reason? It may be that New Hampshire holds the nation’s first presidential primary. It may be that he doesn’t want to mess with Cuomo, who knows where the skeletons are buried at the Port Authority. But one thing is certain: Gov. Straight Talk is spinning again. And it seems to be habit-forming." - columnist Tom Moran- Star-Ledger
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