U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear former Hamilton mayor’s corruption case

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Mike Davis | Times of Trenton
on October 07, 2014 at 3:00 PM, updated October 07, 2014 at 3:06 PM

HAMILTON — The U.S. Supreme Court has denied former Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo’s petition for the court to hear oral arguments on his 2012 corruption conviction.

The Supreme Court justices met at a Sept. 29 conference to review thousands of cases and denied Bencivengo’s petition, revealing their simple one-word decision — “denied” — on Monday. According to the Supreme Court’s public information office, the odds were stacked against Bencivengo: Of the 10,000 cases filed with the court each eight-month term, only about 100 are granted review.

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to take the case is just an example of their interest in pursuing political agendas — the things politicians want to talk about — rather than legal matters that affect the little guy every day,” said Jerome Ballarotto, Bencivengo’s attorney.

“John Bencivengo is going to do eight more months in jail and survive. He’s going to do just fine, but it’s justice and liberty that have to pay the price,” Ballarotto said.

In November 2012, Bencivengo was convicted on charges of extortion, bribery and money laundering after he accepted $12,400 in bribes from his close friend Marliese Ljuba, the school district’s former health insurance broker who needed his help in retaining her lucrative school contract. Ljuba was cooperating with the FBI at the time, wearing a secret recording device and eventually testifying against Bencivengo as the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s key witness in the case.

Bencivengo is serving a 38-month prison sentence in Lewisburg, Pa., and is scheduled to be released in June 2015. Ballarotto said he has weekly email exchanges with his client, who he said has been a “model prisoner.”

“He’s looking forward to getting out and moving on. I don’t think he’s going to leave the (Hamilton) area,” Ballarotto said.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Bencivengo’s request for a new trial after ruling that, though he had no authority over the school board, the influence he wielded as mayor was enough to convict him.

“It is enough that Ljuba believed Bencivengo’s position gave him influence, and not ‘effective power,’ over the school board’s decision with regards to the insurance contract,” Judges Marjorie Rendell, Thomas Hardiman and Brooks Smith wrote in their April decision.

After the appeal was rejected, another request for all 14 Third Circuit Court appellate judges to hear the case was also turned down.
“The issues we raised in this case are talked about all over the country, in various circuit courts. When we did the research, we saw there was a lot of controversy,” Ballarotto said. “It’s not the ‘John Bencivengo’ argument, it’s the big argument.”

Bencivengo’s former community planning director Rob Warney, who helped mask the bribe money from Ljuba to Bencivengo, pleaded guilty to money laundering and testified against Bencivengo as part of the prosecution.He was sentenced to an 18-month prison term at federal correctional institutions in Pennsylvania and was released on home confinement in July.

See Jerry’s blog entry on this event

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