Most Wronged Defendant

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Attorney says his client was the ‘most wronged’ defendant

By David Foster,
The Trentonian
Wednesday, October 8, 2014

HAMILTON – The decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to pass on hearing former township Mayor John Bencivengo’s corruption case did not sit well with his attorney.

“It just goes to show you that even our guys in Washington can be so terribly wrong,”attorney Jerome Ballarotto said Wednesday at the federal courthouse in Trenton. “Of all of the cases that I’ve ever handled, I think John Bencivengo was the most wronged by the law than any other defendant I’ve ever seen.”

On Monday, the country’s top court denied the former mayor’s request to have his case heard before the nine justices, ultimately ending his appeals process.

Bencivengo is currently serving a 38-month sentence on corruption charges at the Lewisburg, Pa. federal prison. He is scheduled to be released on June 6, 2015.

The former mayor was convicted in November 2012 of taking $12,400 in exchange for influencing two school board members so that insurance broker Marliese Ljuba could keep her lucrative health insurance brokerage with Hamilton School District.

He began serving his sentence on May 30, 2013.

Ballarotto said his client will most likely be transferred to a halfway house to serve out the remainder of his term after he is released from Lewisburg in June 2015.

“He’s doing great,” the attorney said of an email he received a couple of weeks ago from Bencivengo. “He’s going to come out and he’s going to do just fine.”

In March, Ballarotto unsuccessfully argued to have the conviction overturned in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia on the basis that his client had no authority as mayor to do what was asked of him for the bribes he accepted.

At the hearing, Ballarotto claimed Bencivengo had “tremendous influence,” but not the power to carry out the task.

“I don’t think there was a rational basis Ljuba believed he had the ability to do this,” the attorney said at the time. “By the time she testified, she was bought and paid for by the government and had no credibility.”

The attorney had hoped the Supreme Court justices chose the case as one of its few they allow for oral arguments to be heard.

“This law needs to be clarified more than any other law I’ve ever seen,” Ballarotto said. “The Supreme Court really should have taken this case and set it straight, but … it’s not something people are talking about, it’s not something that’s political enough in nature.”

According to the court documents, Bencivengo received two payments from Ljuba to fix his ailing finances; he was going through a divorce and needed to support his girlfriend. In June 2011, Ljuba was approached by the FBI to cooperate against the then mayor. She began tape-recording their conversations, which led to his indictment and eventual conviction.

Ljuba made millions doling out bribes for lucrative contracts. She was also allowed to keep her money and walk.

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