Bryant hears corruption charges, is released

Posted: April 04, 2007

As State Sen. Wayne Bryant made his way from the parking lot to the federal courthouse in Trenton yesterday morning, a swarm of cameramen and reporters descended on him.

The reporters asked repeatedly whether he wanted to respond to the public corruption charges lodged against him last week, while he was on vacation in Mexico.

The charges had been building for months, as Bryant stepped down from his Senate leadership position, retired from his law firm, and announced that he would not run for reelection.

Given the chance to defend himself, Bryant, a Democrat from Camden County, said what he has been saying all along:

Nothing.

Then he went into the courthouse with his lawyer for an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge John J. Hughes.

Typical for these kinds of hearings, Bryant's was anticlimactic. He was advised of the charges against him contained in a 20-count indictment returned by a grand jury on Thursday.

The judge, addressing Bryant as "senator," then asked Bryant to stand as he recited his rights.

"Do you understand these rights, sir?" the judge asked.

"Yes, I do," Bryant said.

The senator was taken from the courtroom to the U.S. Marshal's Office in the basement for processing. He was released about 45 minutes later on a $250,000 unsecured bond, which means he did not have to put up any money. He was ordered to surrender his passport and not to travel outside New Jersey or Eastern Pennsylvania.

His codefendant, R. Michael Gallagher, went through the same process and was released under similar conditions.

Both have been charged in connection with a no-show job Bryant held at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey's School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford.

Prosecutors said Gallagher, the former dean of the school, arranged for Bryant to get a $35,000-a-year position as a "program support coordinator" at the school. Prosecutors said Bryant did little to no work but steered millions of dollars to the school through his position as chair of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

Gallagher also is charged in a separate fraud scheme, and Bryant is charged with padding his public pension with two other jobs for public bodies, for which he was accused of doing almost no work.

Gallagher, of Haddonfield, resigned from the osteopathic school in 2006. Last week he was in Florida, where he has a condo at the Vero Beach Racquet Club, according to property records. He also has been working at the Headache Center of Central Florida. He also declined to comment yesterday.

Bryant and Gallagher, both 59, will have their arraignments on Monday before U.S. District Court Judge Freda Wolfson. Both are expected to plead not guilty.

Several of the charges they face carry 20-year maximum sentences, and both face lengthy prison terms if convicted because of the amount of fraud alleged, legal analysts said.

The investigation into Bryant also has widened in recent weeks, as prosecutors have looked into whether other legislators personally benefited from money steered into their districts.

The U.S. Attorney's Office has subpoenaed records from House and Senate leaders, the Governor's Office, and a number of individual lawmakers. The flurry of activity - and Bryant's indictment - has led to calls for reform and transparency in the budget process.

Gov. Corzine, who did not comment directly about Bryant last week, was asked about the senator yesterday at a bill-signing ceremony.

"I don't know the facts," he said. "Everyone is entitled, and Sen. Bryant is certainly entitled, to their day in court."

Bryant, long hailed as a whiz at the state budget process, was credited with sending millions to his district, including $1 million for a new building at Rutgers School of Law, Camden - his alma mater - and $175 million for a bailout of Camden city in 2002.

He has also taken care of his hometown of Lawnside. In fiscal years 2005 and 2006 alone, Lawnside received at least seven special state grants totaling $2.65 million for school improvements and items such as a new fire engine and a shed to store rock salt, according to state budget documents.


Contact staff writer Troy Graham at 856-779-3893 or tgraham@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Jennifer Moroz contributed to this article.

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