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.

The Back Room

Names on the LD7 GOP bench

In the event that state Sen. Diane Allen (R-7) doesn't run for re-election in 2017, the party has a short list of possible candidates it could field to try to head off either Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-7) or Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-7).

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Wake-Up Call

Morning Digest: July 30th

  With looming deadline on bail reform, Christie calls Legislature into special session TRENTON - Gov. Chris Christie is calling the legislature into special session Thursday to address recent bail reform legislation before a looming deadline next week, according to a letter from the governor’s office today. (Brush/PolitickerNJ)...

Op-Ed

The health of New Jersey's women is not Chris Christie's priority

By Linda Stender At his most recent town hall, Gov. Chris Christie accused his predecessors of "monkeying with the math" when it comes to their handling of our state's economy. But as the old saying goes, when the governor points a finger, he... Read More >

Contributors

(7-30-14) Who Is Best Equipped to Decide the Fate of the Common Core? - The latest Christie controversy surrounds his Executive Order to revamp the state’s academic... more »
 The following letter was sent today to Republican state legislators, county chairs, state committee members, and New Hampshire... more »
The Perry-Paul Debate is Healthy for the GOP – and for America  The foreign policy debate in the media between prospective GOP Presidential candidates Texas Governor Rick Perry and... more »
(Washington DC)-- Two recent votes on Capitol Hill suggest an overdue and radical departure from our nation's Draconian and costly War on Drugs.  It's a long-overdue discussion (and not just... more »

Quote of the Day

quote of the day

"Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, a Hudson County Democrat, is balking. He claimed Tuesday that members of his caucus are divided over the measure and that his house is in no real rush – besides, even if enacted this year, the reforms would not take effect until 2017, he said. And with the growing belief that Christie could skip town to run for president, some Democrats are not eager to give him another talking point for his résumé. Christie’s plans to stump for Republican candidates in New Hampshire later Thursday only fuel that suspicion." - columnist Charles Stile

- The Bergen Record

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