By Matthew Arco | November 14th, 2012 - 2:01pm
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TRENTON – Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo’s defense attorney spent the morning Wednesday cross-examining the government’s star witness in the feds' criminal bribery case against the embattled mayor.

Attorney Jerome Ballarotto questioned former insurance broker Maria Ljuba about her relationship with the mayor and other Hamilton officials.

Ljuba testified that she gave thousands of dollars in bribes – including cash, trips to Disneyland and money for drugs – to Hamilton officials in an attempt to retain her multimillion-dollar contract with the township that netted her millions of dollars in commissions.

Ballarotto spent the morning painting a picture for jurors that shed light on the mayor’s close relationship with Ljuba, including how the mayor relied on her after he underwent surgery and how he spent Christmas Eve dinner with Ljuba and her family.

Bencivengo’s attorney also appeared to hammer home for jurors how her agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office allowed Ljuba to get off from all criminal prosecution.

“If fact, you could have gotten 20 years in jail for extortion,” Ballarotto said, while rattling off other possible jail sentences for her other alleged crimes.

“You understand that, right?” asked Ballarotto.

“Yes,” Ljuba responded.

Ballarotto promised jurors in his opening remarks that he planned to show how Ljuba threw the mayor under the bus in order to save herself from prosecution.

Jurors left the courtroom shortly before 1 p.m. for a one-hour lunch break.

The second day of the trial is expected to resume later this afternoon, when former Hamilton township official Rob Warney is expected to testify.

Warney, Hamilton’s former director of community planning and compliance, pleaded guilty in June to money laundering after officials say he funneled $5,000 in bribes from Ljuba to Bencivengo.

Wake-Up Call

Morning Digest: September 29th

Winners and Losers: Week of September 22nd WINNERS Tom MacArthur In arguably the most competitive contest of the season, the CD3 Republican candidate forced Comcast to take down an inaccurate Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) television advertisement – the second of three forced off the air. "Our attorney was...

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 >

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Quote of the Day

quote of the day

"After not responding to messages all week seeking an interview about the campaign, Garrett’s spokeswoman said on Friday afternoon that she would try to set one up, but did not respond further. Garrett has not released any announcements of where he would be campaigning, though he has posted pictures on social media on Sept. 8 from the Greenwood Lake Air Show in West Milford and on Sept. 14 from the Hackettstown Street Fair. Garrett has not agreed to any debates so far." - columnist Herb Jackson

- The Bergen Record

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