The mayor of New Jersey's ninth largest town surrendered to the FBI Thursday after he was charged with attempted extortion.
Hamilton Township Mayor John Bencivengo is accused of taking $12,400 in bribes in exchange for using his influence over a health insurance brokerage contract with the township's school district.
He allegedly accepted the payments while serving as mayor between May 2011 and July 2011.
According to the complaint unsealed Thursday, Bencivengo asked a cooperating witness for money to pay his taxes and living expenses. In exchange, he agreed to speak to a member of the school board about voting to renew the cooperating witness’ health insurance brokerage contract with the district without putting it out for public bid, the complaint alleges.
Bencivengo allegedly received the money in multiple payments. The cooperating witness passed a $5,000 check to an intermediary who accepted it on Bencivengo’s behalf, officials say. The mayor advised the cooperating witness that if anyone asked about the check, the person should say the person bought a bedroom set from the intermediary, the complaint alleges.
Bencivengo received the $5,000 from the intermediary in $500 and $1,000 increments over a period of several weeks in the late spring of 2011, the complaint says. Bencivengo also allegedly received $7,400 in cash from the cooperating witness in July 2011, broken into two payments.
Bencivengo, 58, was charged with attempted extortion under the color of official right. If convicted on that count, he faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
He's scheduled to appear before a judge later Thursday. Information on his attorney wasn't immediately available.
"This investigation revealed the alleged use of bribes in exchange for official influence, which casts a negative connotation on our political system during a time when trust in public officials is essential," said FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge David Velazquez.
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