Ex-pol tries to keep NJ pension he tripled with corrupt, no-show jobs
TRENTON — He gets nothing!
A corrupt politician who managed to nearly triple his pension over a four-year period thanks to a plush no-show job, went to prison and lost it all. Then he tried to get back on the public trough.
But on Thursday, former state Sen. Wayne Bryant lost again after a state court rejected his pension appeal "given the severe criminal nature of the lengthy misconduct."
Bryant, a once powerful Democratic figure in South Jersey politics, was indicted on federal corruption charges in 2007 when Chris Christie was U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. A year later, a federal jury convicted him of 11 counts of wire and mail fraud as well as solicitation and acceptance of a corrupt payment or benefit for funneling money to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and the Gloucester County Board of Social Services, where he had obtained no-show jobs that padded his pension all while working for a law firm.
Bryant started earning pension credits in 1980 when he was elected to the Camden County Board of Freeholders. He was elected in 1982 to the Assembly, and then to the state Senate in 1995, where he served as chairmen of the Budget and Appropriations Committee. He left politics in 2006 and tried to cash on his public pension before he was hit by the federal corruption investigation.
In 2001, Bryant's annual pension was estimated at a modest $28,000. Between 2002 and 2006, however, his pension ballooned to $81,000 a year as a result of his appointments, according to Thursday's decision by a three-judge appellate panel.
Bryant's pension padding was not unusual. A pension is calculated by taking a public employee's last three years of salary. The calculation allowed political operatives to boost their pensions by getting plum, high-paying positions in the years before their retirement.
Because Bryant's crimes touched on his job, the Public Employees Retirement System Board voted to revoke his pension — not only for the years that the corruption charges covered, but for his entire career, which the board is allowed to do if they find that the crimes are egregious enough to merit such punishment.
Other politicians have been luckier.
A corrupt former aide to then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker will continue to receive $38,000 a year from taxpayers for the rest of his life after he was sentenced to a year in federal prison. The pension board initially cut Ronald Salahuddin's pension by 34 percent. But judges thought that was too harsh and reduced the cut to just 20 percent, a reduction of 6.7 years out of his 33 years in the public sector.
The former schools superintendent in Rockaway Township, meanwhile, continues to collect a $110,000 annual pension even though he admitted lying to the FBI about accepting a kickback from an insurance company.
Bryan, who also lost an appeal of his conviction, argued that he should be entitled to at least part of his pension.
"The bulk of his service was very honorable," his attorney, Samuel J. Halpern, of West Orange, said Thursday. "He had a lot of accomplishments and very worthy legislation passed while he was in the Legislature. It's sad that three-plus years could destroy all of that. So we're naturally let down."
The appellate decision pointed to the statements that U.S. District Court Judge Freda Wolfson made when she sentenced him to four years in prison, noting that his "good deeds necessarily are not overshadowed by what’s happened in the last couple of years” and “individuals have to realize when they enter public service, that they can never abuse the trust of the people.”
Halpern said Thursday he would speak to Bryant about what action, if any, to take in response to the decision.
The pension board was defended by state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal's office.
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Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.