MARCH 10, 2009
A pair of criminally charged New Jersey state legislators have been accused of illegally using campaign money to pay the hefty legal costs in their respective corruption cases.
A veteran state employee has formally requested that the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission determine if Democrat state senators Sharpe James and Joseph Coniglio had permission to dip into their campaign coffers to pay their mounting legal bills.
James, the former longtime mayor of Newark, spent $50,000 to defend himself against fraud and conspiracy though he ended up getting convicted last spring and sentenced to 27 months in prison. A federal jury found the 72-year-old politician guilty of getting his young mistress heavily discounted city properties that she later sold for large profits.
Coniglio, whose corruption trial begins next month, has spent nearly $100,000 to fight mail fraud and extortion charges. Last year a federal grand jury indicted the lawmaker for abusing a secretive legislative grant to enrich himself. Authorities say Coniglio helped a college medical center obtain millions of dollars in state funding in exchange for a bogus “consultant” job that paid him $5,000 a month.
The state election commission recently prohibited a separate New Jersey senator, Democrat Wayne Bryant, from using campaign money for his defense against fraud and bribery charges. Bryant had asked the commission if he could use $640,000 in campaign contributions to pay attorneys but the agency declined, saying that defending oneself against a criminal indictment is not “an ordinary and necessary expense of an officeholder.” Bryant got convicted in November and has appealed.
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