TRENTON – The former mayor of Hamilton Township was sentenced today to 38 months in prison in connection with $12,400 in bribes he solicited and accepted in exchange for his official influence in helping a health insurance broker maintain her contract with the township’s school district, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said.
John Bencivengo, 58, was previously found guilty following a five-day trial before U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson in Trenton federal court. Bencivengo was convicted of obstruction of commerce by extortion under color of official right, attempted obstruction of commerce by extortion under color of official right, two counts of violating the federal Travel Act, for causing the interstate travel and using facilities in interstate commerce in connection with the bribes that he accepted, and one count of money laundering. Thompson imposed the sentence today in Trenton federal court.
“Mayor Bencivengo betrayed the people of Hamilton Township and all of the honest public servants in New Jersey who take their oaths and their responsibilities seriously,” U.S. Attorney Fishman said. “His conviction, and today’s sentence, serve as reminders that the public trust is not for sale.”
“John Bencivengo made the calculated decision to violate his sworn responsibilities in order to fulfill his personal needs,” said FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge David Velazquez. “His conviction and today’s sentence underscore the impact of this crime on our community and state. The FBI views public corruption of any kind as a severe crime problem and will continue to dedicate our resources to investigate these crimes.”
According to documents filed in this case and evidence at trial:
While serving as mayor between May 2011 and July 2011, Bencivengo accepted payments totaling $12,400 from a cooperating witness, Marliese Ljuba, the health insurance broker for the Hamilton Township School District. In exchange for the payments, Bencivengo agreed to use his official assistance, action, and influence to assist Ljuba retain the position as health insurance broker for the Hamilton Township School District. Bencivengo agreed to assist by (1) speaking to a member of the School District’s Board of Education (identified in the indictment as “School Board Member No. 1”) about retaining Ljuba as the school district’s health insurance broker instead of putting that position out for public bid; and (2) agreeing to let Ljuba choose the individual to replace another member of the school board if that member left the board to run for the New Jersey Assembly.
Bencivengo received the $12,400 in multiple payments. The first payment was a $5,000 check that Ljuba passed to Bencivengo through Warney. Bencivengo had informed Ljuba that he was having financial difficulties and that he needed her assistance. Bencivengo agreed to accept payment from Ljuba in exchange for Bencivengo’s assistance with School Board Member No. 1, who had advocated putting the School District’s health insurance broker position out for public bid instead of retaining Ljuba. On May 12, 2011, Ljuba traveled from another state to Hamilton Township to make that payment to Bencivengo. Bencivengo directed her to make the check payable to Warney’s wife to conceal the payment, and to put a notation on the check that it was to pay for a “Cherry Bedroom Set.” After receiving the check, Warney deposited the check and distributed the proceeds to Bencivengo in cash increments over several weeks. Warney previously pleaded guilty to money laundering and is awaiting sentencing. Bencivengo received the remaining $7,400 in two cash payments from Ljuba in July 2011, after she began cooperating with law enforcement: $2,400 from Ljuba at his home in Hamilton on July 20, 2011, and $5,000, from Ljuba in an Atlantic City hotel room on July 29, 2011.
In addition to the prison term, Thompson sentenced Bencivengo to three years of supervised release, fined him $3,000 and ordered him to pay restitution of $12,400.
Fishman credited special agents of the FBI’s Trenton Resident Agency, Newark Field Office, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge David Velazquez, for the investigation leading to today’s sentencing.