NOVEMBER 19, 2008
One of New Jersey’s most influential legislators has been convicted in a widespread bribery scheme that his attorneys claim is legal because it’s how politics operate statewide.
A federal jury didn’t buy the outrageous defense and instead found Democrat state Senator Wayne Bryant guilty of 12 counts of bribery and pension fraud, making him one of the most powerful New Jersey public officials convicted of federal corruption in recent years.
Bryant coerced officials at a public university into giving him a high-paying bogus job in exchange for getting the school $12 million while he headed the powerful Senate Budget Committee. He combined that fake hospital job with several other bogus, taxpayer-financed positions—at the Gloucester County Board of Social Services and a separate public research university—to fraudulently triple his taxpayer-funded pension. In all, he simultaneously collected salaries from four public jobs.
Federal prosecutors say the veteran politician, who served as a county commissioner and in the New Jersey Assembly before becoming a state senator in 1995, made no effort to hide his crimes but rather committed them in plain sight in a “catch me if you can,” scheme. The U.S. Attorney in charge of the case called Bryant’s conduct the most reprehensible and disgusting he had seen.
Bryant’s 10-week trial featured a lengthy witness list of political heavy hitters—including current and past legislators—who were believed to be embroiled in the scandal. Bryant faces at least 15 years in prison for convictions on corrupt solicitation and acceptance of a bribe, five counts of mail fraud and six counts of wire fraud.
Although Bryant is the most high-profile elected official to be convicted in New Jersey, the state has a history of serious political corruption that has caught the attention of federal officials. In an effort to combat the legendary crisis, New Jersey lawmakers approved several measures last year to raise penalties for corrupt public officials, lengthen the statute of limitations for crimes and mandate ethics training for legislators.
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