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New Jersey Mayor Charged with Attempted Extortion

This news story was published on April 28, 2012.
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TRENTON—The mayor of Hamilton Township, New Jersey 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, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

John Bencivengo, 58, of Hamilton, is charged by complaint with attempted extortion under the color of official right. He is scheduled to appear this morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas Arpert in Trenton federal court.

“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,” said U.S. Attorney 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.”

“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,” said 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.”

According to the complaint unsealed today:

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.

Bencivengo received the money in multiple payments. The CW passed a $5,000 check to an intermediary who accepted it on Bencivengo’s behalf. The mayor advised the CW that if anyone asked about the check, the CW should say the CW bought a bedroom set from the intermediary. Bencivengo received the $5,000 from the intermediary in $500- and $1,000-increments over a period of several weeks in the late spring of 2011. Bencivengo also received $7,400 in cash from the CW in July 2011, broken into two payments.

The count with which Bencivengo is charged carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI’s Trenton Resident Agency-Newark Field Office, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Ward, for the investigation leading to the charge. He added that the investigation is ongoing.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Harvey Bartle and Eric Moran of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Special Prosecutions Division in Trenton.

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