South Jersey Sen. Bryant charged in corruption indictment

Posted: March 29, 2007

TRENTON - State Sen. Wayne Bryant, until recently one of New Jersey's most influential lawmakers, was charged today with abusing his power and the public trust.

A federal grand jury indicted Bryant, 59, of Lawnside, on public corruption and fraud charges tied to his employment at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and two other publicly funded agencies and institutions.

The 20-count indictment also charges R. Michael Gallagher, the former dean of UMDNJ's School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, who prosecutors allege schemed with Bryant to defraud the system.

According to the 40-page indictment, the powerful Camden County Democrat effectively sold his political influence to Gallagher and the osteopathic school. In return for lobbying on behalf of the school and securing millions in extra state funds, prosecutors allege, Bryant was rewarded with a $35,000-a-year no-show job.

The indictment also accuses the senator of fraudulently boosting his public pension with the job, as well as two other positions - as lecturer at Rutgers University law school in Camden and as legal counsel for the Gloucester County Board of Social Services - for which authorities claim he also did little or no work.

"One of New Jersey's most powerful politicians is now charged with putting his personal financial greed ahead of the people of the New Jersey," said U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie at an afternoon news conference on the steps of the federal courthouse in Trenton.

In addition to conspiring with Bryant to set up the alleged fraudulent employment scheme, Gallagher, of Haddonfield, is also accused of having the osteopathic school's books doctored. By making the headache center he headed look more profitable than it was, the indictment says, Gallagher ensured himself a bonus.

The fraud and corruption charges carry a maximum of 20 years in prison, but under sentencing guidelines, Bryant and Gallagher would likely serve a lot less if convicted.

Federal authorities said Bryant was on vacation in Mexico, and that Gallagher was away in Florida, so a court hearing would not be held immediately. Bryant's lawyer, Carl Poplar, said he had not yet read the indictment, and declined comment. Gallagher's lawyer, Jeremy Frey, also declined comment.

The indictment comes six months after the federal probe into Bryant burst became public.

In September, a federal monitor appointed by Christie to investigate suspected abuses at UMDNJ blasted Bryant's employment with the school. The senator's part-time "program support coordinator" job, for which he racked up lucrative public pension credits, was effectively a sham, the monitor said in a scathing report. What Bryant was really hired to do, the report said, was use his "political juice" as chairman of the powerful Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and Joint Budget Oversight Committee to steer millions in extra state aid the school's way.

Bryant denied the allegations, but stepped down from his budget posts not long afterward.

Investigators have been closing in ever since, asking questions about Bryant's employment with UMDNJ and several other publicly funded agencies and institutions. Among other places, subpoenas went to Rutgers, where the senator held a $35,000-a-year teaching contract for four years, and the Camden Redevelopment Agency, which gave Bryant's law firm $270,000 worth of legal work from the $175 million that the senator pushed through the Legislature to help rebuild Camden.

As investigators have been wrapping up their case against Bryant, they have been turning their attention to other legislators - and whether they personally benefited from grants slipped into the state budget at the last minute.

Last month, subpoenas demanding records tied to the so-called Christmas tree grants were delivered to legislative leaders, the main legislative offices in the Statehouse, and the governor's office. Earlier this week, another round of subpoenas went out to three North Jersey legislators - State Sens. Joseph Coniglio and Nicholas Scutari and Assemblyman Brian Stack - seeking information about grants that went to organizations that employed them or their relatives.

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