New Jersey Corruption Among Politicians Continues [AUDIO]
Hamilton Township is New Jersey's 9th largest town and its mayor is now facing corruption charges. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman says John Bencivengo surrendered Thursday to FBI agents to face allegations he took $12,400 in bribes in exchange for his official influence over a health insurance brokerage contract with the township's school district.
It's the second corruption case related to insurance contracts in recent weeks to make headlines.
Two weeks ago, former Toms River schools superintendent Michael Ritacco pleaded guilty to public corruption and tax evasion. Ritacco admitted taking more than $1 million in bribes in a kickback scheme to inflate school insurance charges.
Fishman says, "Over the last several months in particular we've seen that this particular area of insurance brokerage contracts with municipalities and school districts has been a particularly lucrative form of graft…..This is an area which we're taking a very serious look at."
"The sitting Mayor of Hamilton Township is charged with promising to use his influence over the Hamilton Board of Education in exchange for bribes," says Fishman. "This is the most recent example of a public official charged by this Office with extortion or bribery in connection with brokering insurance contracts for public schools. These lucrative service contracts should not be opportunities for public servants to betray their constituents by enriching themselves or their colleagues."
According to the complaint, while serving as mayor between May 2011 and July 2011, Bencivengo accepted payments totaling $12,400 from a cooperating witness (the "CW"). The payments were made in exchange for his official action and influence to assist the CW in retaining a contract to provide health insurance brokerage services to the Hamilton Township School District. Bencivengo asked the CW for money to pay his taxes and living expenses. In exchange, he agreed to speak to a member of the school board about voting to renew the CW's health insurance brokerage contract with the District without putting it out for public bid.
The count with which Bencivengo is charged carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
"This investigation revealed the alleged use of bribes in exchange for official influence, which casts a negative connotation on our political system during a time when trust in public officials is essential," says FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge David Velazquez. "It is imperative to combat public corruption at all levels of government, therefore, situations of extortion under the color of official right will continue to be vigorously addressed and investigated."
Fishman says, "It is still sad but true that there are some people who don't take their obligations of public service and the responsibility and opportunity that public service provides in the right way and instead use public office to enrich themselves or their associates at the expense of the public."