Firm at heart of Bencivengo scandal mum on its role

The insurance brokerage firm that holds the health benefits contract at the heart of the scandal surrounding Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo has so far been mum over its role in the inicident.

According to the complaint against Bencivengo, a broker for the firm that administers the health benefits contract for the township school district, acting as a cooperating witness for the FBI, wore a wire and taped Bencivengo asking for money in exchange for help in securing the contract for another year.

District officials identified the firm as Allen Associates of Vineland.  Officials for the firm did not return several calls and emails for comments on the complaint.

The main consultant on the school district’s plan is Marliese Ljuba, several sources said today. Ljuba is listed on the Allen Associates website as a senior health benefits consultant, and according to the sources has worked with the school district on its insurance plan for at least the last eight years.

Ljuba also could not be reached for comment on the complaint.

Bencivengo was arrested Thursday and charged with attempted extortion under color of official light. The complaint against the Republican mayor, disclosed today by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, relies heavily on the taped conversations with the confidential witness.

It’s unknown who the confidential witness is and the complaint describes the CW only as someone “who provided insurance brokerage services for public entities, including municipalities and school boards,” the Hamilton Township School Board among them.

According to the complaint, the CW paid Bencivengo $12,400 in exchnage for promises that he would use his inflluence with a school board member to keep the board from offering the insurance contract out to bid.  During one conversation, Bencivengo told the witness he needed help with living expenses.  The witness told Bencivengo that if he helped secure the contract, he would have the money he needed.

“I’m helping you as much as I can,” Bencivengo told the witness, according to the complaint. “I’ve helped you so far.”

According to information provided by the school district administration to good government advocate Citizens Campaign as part of an open records request, Allen Associates was paid more than $1.2 million in commissions during the current fiscal year for its work on the district’s health and prescription benefits plans.

According to a response from the district, the board has not gone out for bids on the contract in any of the past three years.  Prior to that, district officials said the health insurance brokerage contract was issued using “Comparative Analysis.”  Allen has been the district’s broker since 2003.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney would provide no information on the cooperating witness.