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 22nd

Winners and Losers: Week of September 15th WINNERS Chris Christie NBC News reported Thursday evening that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has determined after a nine-month investigation that there is 'no evidence" so far that the governor had advance knowledge about any politically motivated scheme around the bridge lane closures...

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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

"In many ways, Fulop has embraced McGreevey’s granular-level approach to retail politics, racing around the state to raise money for congressional candidates in South Jersey one night, showing up at a Morris County Democratic Party function the next. His administration has also awarded legal work to Weiner Lesniak, the Parsippany-based firm run by state Sen. Ray Lesniak, the Union County Democratic Party power broker." - columnist Charles Stile

- The Bergen Record

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