N.J. Sen. Bryant charged with corruption

Posted: March 30, 2007

State Sen. Wayne Bryant, credited with steering millions of dollars to South Jersey in more than 20 years in the Legislature, was charged yesterday with using his considerable influence to illegally enrich himself.

The Camden County Democrat faces 13 corruption-related counts in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury sitting in Trenton. Bryant, the former chairman of the powerful Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, was vacationing in Mexico, but prosecutors were arranging for him to surrender to the FBI upon his return. He is the first sitting state legislator to be indicted in recent history.

"Sen. Bryant made himself rich in the short term and secure in the long term at the expense of the taxpayers," U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said at a news conference in Trenton on the steps of the federal courthouse. "Today, he'll be held to account for his conduct and his betrayal of the public trust."

The charges against Bryant stem from his employment at the state-run University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and at two other publicly funded agencies and institutions.

Essentially, Bryant is charged with doing little to no work at those jobs, which also nearly tripled the value of his public pension.

In one of those jobs, Bryant was hired to represent the Gloucester County Board of Social Services, but farmed out the work to other lawyers at his firm, according to the indictment. Between 2002 and 2006, Bryant worked just 14.8 hours for Social Services but was paid about $200,000, prosecutors said.

Bryant, 59, also held an adjunct professorship at Rutgers University's Camden campus, yet rarely appeared at the school, the indictment said.

The former dean of UMDNJ's School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, R. Michael Gallagher, was also charged with 13 counts in the indictment for what prosecutors said was arranging Bryant's job and "cooking the books" to make it appear as though the senator actually did work there.

Gallagher, who was in Florida yesterday, also was charged with running a fraudulent scheme to pay himself bonuses from 2002 to 2004. Gallagher resigned from the school in 2006. Prosecutors were arranging for him to surrender as well.

Bryant's no-show job at UMDNJ was uncovered by a federal monitor appointed to oversee the troubled university. UMDNJ agreed to the monitor in 2005 to avoid charges of Medicaid fraud.

Many of the allegations concerning Bryant's UMDNJ job had been disclosed in the monitor's reports. Shortly after one report, Bryant stepped down as chair of the budget committee.

He announced this year that he would retire from his law firm, Zeller & Bryant, and he said earlier this month that he would not seek reelection.

Attorneys for both Bryant and Gallagher refused to comment, as did officials at Rutgers and Gloucester County Social Services.

A spokeswoman for UMDNJ said, "These reminders of past problems at the university only reinforce our commitment to implementing major reforms."

The Bryant investigation also widened in recent weeks as prosecutors, seeking to find out whether other lawmakers had personally benefited from public funds, dropped subpoenas on the governor's office, Assembly and Senate leaders, and a number of individual legislators.

The investigations have had a ripple effect in Trenton, with legislators on both sides of the aisle calling for reform and vowing to clean up the budget process.

"The Legislature needs to take bold steps to demonstrate that we will not tolerate this behavior among our own members - or any other public official," Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck (R., Monmouth) said yesterday.

Bryant's position at the head of the budget committee had been seen as a windfall to South Jersey - particularly when he helped craft a $175 million bailout for Camden - and his colleagues have long praised him as a financial whiz and an effective lawmaker.

Christie, though, said those accomplishments should be overshadowed by Bryant's "brazen" willingness to dip into the public till.

"Those who would call him a good legislator are a good indicator of how numb these people have become to this kind of conduct," he said. "Business as usual is over."

Christie's office has prosecuted more than 100 public officials in the last five years, including former Senate President John Lynch (D., Middlesex).

Prosecutors described a "symbiotic relationship" between Bryant and Gallagher, beginning in 2002, when the senator lobbied for Gallagher to get the dean's position. Gallagher then helped create Bryant's job at the school. Officially, Bryant's position was "program support coordinator," which paid roughly $35,000 a year. Bryant failed to list that salary on his financial disclosure form in 2004.

He also told the school that his job there had been approved by the Office of Legislative Services, which provides ethical and legal advice to lawmakers. But Bryant never got an opinion from OLS, prosecutors said.

Shortly after first discussing a job with UMDNJ officials, Bryant also spoke out against a proposal that would have combined the university with Rutgers and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

While Bryant was supposed to work for UMDNJ three days a week, he actually was on campus for just half a day, and he spent most of that time reading the newspaper, prosecutors said.

His true job, the indictment said, was to steer millions of dollars to the school, which he did from 2003 to 2006.

"You got to wonder why this guy was in charge of giving out taxpayer dollars, and you got to wonder why no one was watching the store," Christie said. "That's disappointing to me as a citizen."

Between 2003 and 2005, when Bryant held all three public positions in addition to his job as a senator, he nearly tripled the value of his pension. The state retirement system uses a formula that bases pensions on the three highest salary years.

At the end of 2001, Bryant's pension would have been worth about $28,000 annually, the indictment said. After three years of holding all three public jobs, the value of his pension shot up to more than $81,000.

Bryant applied to begin receiving his pension in December, but the application has not been processed, said Mark Perkiss, spokesman for the state treasury. He said that, generally, applications would be shelved in a situation like Bryant's until the criminal charges were resolved.

The maximum penalties for each count in the indictment range from 10 to 20 years in prison. But, under sentencing guidelines, both Bryant and Gallagher would receive much less time if convicted.


Wayne Bryant's Time Line of Trouble

1990: A lobbyist accuses Bryant and four other Assembly members of shaking her down for a $20,000 campaign contribution. No charges are filed.

1992: The Legislature's Joint Ethics Committee reprimands Bryant, an assemblyman, for using his influence with the Florio administration to win a $2.86 million no-bid lease with the state for a building he partly owned in Cherry Hill.

1996: A federal audit of Camden Housing Authority concludes Bryant's law firm collected $730,000 in unsubstantiated costs for legal work from 1992 to 1995.

2005: The Legislature's Joint Ethics Committee demurs on a complaint that Bryant used his position to win $270,000 in Camden redevelopment work for his law firm as part of the $175 million Camden Recovery Act he sponsored.

May 2006: The U.S. attorney subpoenas the Delaware River and Bay Authority, seeking records related to Bryant's law firm.

September 2006: The U.S. attorney's monitor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey blasts Bryant's part-time job at the scandal-plagued school, saying the senator did "little to no work" in his $38,000-a-year position as "program support coordinator." What Bryant was really hired to do, the monitor says, was use his influence as chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee to secure millions in extra university funding.

September 2006: Bryant, who denies the monitor's allegations, resigns his leadership of the budget committee. The state Attorney General's Office subpoenas the Camden Redevelopment Agency for records of $1 million in state aid Bryant helped secure.

October 2006: State investigators subpoena the Gloucester County Board of Social Services for Bryant's work records. The subpoena comes after The Inquirer reveals that while Bryant earns $59,000 a year plus public pension credits as an attorney for the agency, he often farms out work to law-firm subordinates.

October 2006: Federal investigators subpoena the Camden Redevelopment Agency, seeking documents relating to work done by Bryant's law firm.

October 2006: Federal investigators serve subpoenas on Rutgers University and UMDNJ, demanding records relating to Bryant's employment.

October 2006: Federal investigators serve the state treasurer with a subpoena, demanding documents tied to Bryant's public pension and any contact between the senator and Treasury officials regarding UMDNJ. Investigators also demand documents from state Department of Children and Families about state funding for UMDNJ. Another subpoena, directed to the Office of Legislative Services, the legal arm of the Legislature, demands records relating to funding for public agencies or institutions where Bryant or his law firm were employed.

February: Bryant announces his retirement from Zeller & Bryant, the law firm he helped found.

February: The U.S. attorney subpoenas records from six Assembly and Senate leaders and Democratic and Republican legislative offices, seeking records about so-called Christmas tree grants that lawmakers traditionally have stuffed into the state budget at the last minute for pet projects. This indicates the Bryant probe has widened into whether other lawmakers personally profited from grants.

February: Four lawmakers reveal they have been questioned by the FBI regarding Bryant's role in securing funding for UMDNJ.

March: The U.S. attorney subpoenas Christmas tree records from Gov. Corzine's office.

March: The U.S. attorney subpoenas records from three North Jersey legislators who have ties to organizations that received $3.4 million in Christmas tree grants.


Wayne Bryant

Age: 59

Hometown: Lawnside

Occupation: State senator and lawyer (retired from Zeller & Bryant on March 1)

Education: Bachelor's degree in political science, Howard University; law degree, Rutgers University School of Law, Camden

Public service: Camden County Board of Freeholders (1980-82), state Assembly (1982-95), state Senate (since 1995)

Major leadership roles: Chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations and Joint Budget Oversight Committees until stepping down amid the investigation last fall

Career highlights: Drew national attention in 1992 when he sponsored legislation to cut benefits to women on welfare who have more children, and was chief architect of the 2002 Camden Municipal Rehabilitation and Economic Recovery Act, which poured $175 million into the troubled city.


 

To read the indictment, go to


 

To read the indictment, go to


Contact staff writer Troy Graham

at 856-779-3893 or tgraham@phillynews.com.

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