TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The former mayor of New Jersey’s largest suburb was sentenced Wednesday to just over three years in prison for corruption after telling the judge he lives with “self-torture” every day over the crimes.
Former Hamilton Township Mayor John Bencivengo also was ordered to participate in a mental health program in prison. A forensic psychologist testified at the sentencing that Bencivengo has suffered from major depression since 2008.
Bencivengo must also pay back at least $7,400 in money he accepted as part of a bribery sting. In addition to his 38-month prison sentence, he will also face three years of probation when he is released and must pay thousands of dollars in fines.
Bencivengo, 58, took responsibility for his actions and cried in court as he spoke about the impact the case had on his 90-year-old-mother.
“I have great remorse, anxiety and emotional self-torture on a daily basis over these uncharacteristic circumstances,” Bencivengo said. “I’m profoundly sorry that this matter is even before this court.”
Bencivengo had faced up to five to six years in prison. U.S. District Judge Anne Thompson said she considered 60 letters written on the former official’s behalf in lowering the sentence, but had to consider he knowingly accepted money he shouldn’t have.
“He has thrown away so much for $12,400,” Thompson said.
Bencivengo was convicted in November on extortion, money laundering and bribery-related counts. He resigned as mayor of the Mercer County community the day after he was convicted.
Federal prosecutors said Bencivengo took the bribes from a health insurance broker between May and July 2011. In exchange, he promised to use his influence to help the broker keep a health insurance contract with the township’s school district.
Bencivengo’s lawyer argued the money was a loan.
Bencivengo’s daughter told the judge her father had lost everything he worked his whole life for.
“My father has been given a life sentence already. I am pleading with you, your honor, to see that in my dad’s case he has paid a very significant price already,” Stacie Bencivengo said.
But U.S. Attorney Harvey Bartle said John Bencivengo knew exactly what he was doing when he accepted the first $5,000 in the form of a check made out to a former employee’s wife.
Bartle said Bencivengo also acted with official misconduct for accepting cash payments during a weekend trip to Atlantic City.
“Government does not take place in Atlantic City hotel rooms,” Bartle said.
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