Charges 'very ugly' for Bryant

He could get a long term if convicted, lawyers say, because the alleged loss to taxpayers is so high.

Posted: March 31, 2007

The corruption case against State Sen. Wayne Bryant (D., Camden) may not have the sex appeal of wiretaps, paramours, opulent spending, or old-fashioned cash bribes.

But a Bryant trial would likely include testimony from former New Jersey cabinet officials, and a conviction could bring an extraordinarily high sentence, according to lawyers who have analyzed the indictment.

Because the alleged loss to taxpayers is so high - perhaps more than $1 million - the advisory guidelines call for a sentence of 15 to 20 years, the lawyers said.

"This looks very ugly," said Mark Cedrone, a Philadelphia lawyer who has defended several high-profile corruption cases. "It's a lot of time for what one might refer to as a run-of-the-mill corrupt scheme."

U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie yesterday said that Bryant, if convicted, could receive the longest sentence by far in the history of New Jersey political corruption.

"We calculated 24 to 30 years," Christie said. "You're talking big numbers."

Bryant is charged with trading his Senate influence - lobbying on behalf of a public medical college - for a state job for which he did little or no work.

"Ultra-conservatively, he's looking at 10-plus years . . . it could get as high as 20 years" if convicted, said Haddon Heights defense lawyer Rocco Cipparone. "It's hard to predict a sentence at this point, because all you have to rely on is a one-sided indictment by the government. But no matter how you slice it, it looks bad."

Elected officials recently sentenced on corruption charges include former Philadelphia City Councilman Rick Mariano, who was sentenced to six years for taking $28,000 in bribes, and former City Treasurer Cory Kemp, who got 10 years for steering hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts to firms favored by a power broker.

The indictment alleges that Bryant used his position as chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee to steer millions of dollars to the state-run University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. In return, prosecutors say, he got a $35,000-a-year no-show job at the school.

R. Michael Gallagher, the former dean of UMDNJ's School of Osteopathic Medicine, was charged with arranging the job for Bryant, for which prosecutors say the senator did little work other than reading newspapers.

The grand jury also charged that Bryant devised a scheme to nearly triple the value of his public pension through the UMDNJ job, and with work for Rutgers University-Camden and the Gloucester County Board of Social Services.

Bryant and Gallagher are expected to surrender to the FBI on Tuesday and make an initial court appearance in Trenton. Their arraignment before U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson is set for April 9.

They are expected to plead not guilty. Bryant's attorney, Carl Poplar, did not return a call yesterday. Gallagher's attorney, Jeremy Frey, was unavailable, his office said.

Edwin Stier, a former senior federal and state prosecutor who has followed the case, said it is going to turn on whether authorities have evidence that Gallagher gave Bryant the job with the expectation that the senator would help UMDNJ.

"The quid pro quo is always tough to prove," Stier said. "For example, I'm assuming that they can prove he didn't do much work in those jobs. But was that because he was lazy and simply got away with it? Or was it because he had an understanding that he didn't have to work - just help obtain grants?"

Because the length of a sentence is driven often by the amount of loss, prosecutors and defense lawyers are likely to battle over how much money Bryant's alleged malfeasance cost taxpayers. Bryant's defense may argue that the college would have received certain funding anyway, even without the senator's help, Cipparone said.

What's more, lawyers said, some grants that Bryant allegedly secured for UMDNJ were for worthy causes - cancer research and children's issues.

"It's conceivable that this might create some sympathy in the minds of some jurors, but [legally] it doesn't make much difference how noble the purpose of the grants were," Stier said.

Judging by references in the indictment, trial witnesses are likely to include a former president of UMDNJ, a former state health commissioner, a former human services commissioner, and a former state treasurer. Staffers from the Senate, UMDNJ, the School of Osteopathic Medicine, and Rutgers are also likely witnesses.

"You can tell by the specificity and clarity of the indictment that the U.S. attorney has witnesses lined up to testify that he did little or no actual work for these state agencies," said William DeStefano, a lawyer who won an acquittal in the City Hall corruption case.

The charges that Bryant failed to list the extra jobs on his Senate public financial disclosure form, as required by law, will be tough to beat, the lawyers said. The income from the work is not disputed.

But William Hughes, a former prosecutor active in Democratic politics, said the indictment "may have over-reached . . . and this could be a problem."

Bryant may have a better case to make on the law than the facts, said Hughes, an Atlantic City lawyer.

"What we have here is a federal prosecutor inserting himself into a state budgetary process and making himself the arbiter of what's right," he said. "It may turn out that he has terribly exceeded his constitutional authority."

Greg Reinert, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney's Office, said: "The office's record speaks for itself."


Contact staff writer John Shiffman at 215-854-2658 or jshiffman@phillynews.com.

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