Hamilton Mayor Accused Of Taking Bribes
Hamilton Township Mayor John Bencivengo is free on $100,000 bond after surrendering to the FBI to face extortion charges.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman says 58-year-old Bencivengo surrendered this morning 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.
“Today, 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.”
Senator Linda R. Greenstein, D-Middlesex/Mercer called for Bencivengo's resignation.
"The allegations against Mayor Bencivengo are deeply troubling. His actions are a betrayal of the trust of the people of Hamilton and a grievous violation of every standard of government service and responsibility," Greenstein said in a press release. "The accounts of his actions will completely undermine his ability to perform his duties under these circumstances. For the sake of the people of Hamilton, I am calling for John Bencivengo to resign from his post as Mayor of Hamilton Township.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.