Three days after surrendering to federal authorities on charges he accepted a $12,400 bribe in exchange for a promise to use his influence to help a friend maintain a contract with the school board, Hamilton Township Mayor John Bencivengo listed the alleged bribe as a loan on his financial disclosure form.
In an April 30 disclosure filed with the state Department of Community Affairs, Bencivengo lists a $12,400 loan from Marlisa Ljuba, an insurance broker who sources have said is the government’s cooperating witness in the case against the Hamilton mayor.
Federal authorities have charged Bencivengo with attempted extortion for allegedly agreeing to help Ljuba keep a lucrative contract with the Hamilton School board. Ljuba was wearing a wire when she asked Bencivengo for help keeping the contract, which at least one member of the board was pushing to publicly bid.
Bencivengo surrendered to the FBI on April 27.
According to excerpts from a transcript of the conversation, Bencivengo told Ljuba he was having financial troubles and would be unable to pay his upcoming property tax bill. When Ljuba asked what he planned to do, Bencivengo responded “You’re going to have to help me,” according to the transcript.
Authorities allege that help amounted to $12,400, which Bencivengo allegedly arranged to receive in installments through an intermediary. According to the complaint against him, Bencivengo and Ljuba arranged for the intermediary, who has not been identified, to claim that Ljuba was paying for the purchase of a bedroom set from the intermediary.
Bencivengo later told Ljuba he had received the money in $500 and $1,000 installments. In exchange, Bencivengo allegedly promised to help keep the contract in her hands.
Bencivengo has maintained his innocence and has refused to resign his post.
Hamilton Democrats were quick to jump on the disclosure, though Bencivengo has not denied taking money from Ljuba. In a statement, party officials again called on the mayor to resign.
“The Hamilton Township Democratic Party hopes that the ‘smoking gun’ sworn admission by Mayor Bencivengo that he solicited and accepted $12,400 from a no-bid contractor as alleged in federal criminal charges of extortion and bribery will be sufficient for the Township Council to finally put aside their partisan political blindness and unanimously call for the Mayor to immediately resign,” party officials said in a release. “The Hamilton Democratic Party further characterizes the Mayor’s attempt to ‘whitewash’ the payment as a loan just plain ‘hogwash,’ that not even the most gullible political partisan would accept as having an ounce of credibility. Any other citizen knows, there are many more legitimate sources to borrow money, like relatives or banks, rather than a consultant who stands to make millions of dollars from a no-bid contract that the Mayor could influence.”
Attorney Jerome Ballarotto, who is representing Bencivengo, did not return a call for comment.