Low-show sham or up-front effort? That is the choice facing Wayne Bryant's jury as it deliberates his job motivation at UMDNJ.

Posted: November 16, 2008

TRENTON — For the last 10 weeks, prosecutors have tried to show that former State Sen. Wayne Bryant took a "low-show" job at the School of Osteopathic Medicine in exchange for steering millions in state money there.

The defense has countered with explanations that Bryant either was not involved in securing the funding or took actions that were entirely proper.

Jurors began deliberating the fate of Bryant and codefendant R. Michael Gallagher, the school's former dean, on Friday. They are scheduled to resume tomorrow.

Which side they believe could hinge on what prosecutors called, in a PowerPoint presentation, the "lies, deceptions or act of concealment" in the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Lurie said these 30 instances showed that Bryant and Gallagher knew what they were doing was wrong and tried to cover it up.

The defense scoffed at that characterization.

"They weren't lies and concealments," Bryant attorney Carl Poplar shot back. "They were talking points."

Lurie argued that the cover-up had begun immediately after Bryant solicited a job from Stuart Cook, who was president of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, in late 2002. The osteopathic school in Stratford is one of the university's campuses.

Lurie called Bryant's request "a shakedown."

In December 2002, Gallagher and other top university officials began drawing up a job description to bring Bryant, a Camden County Democrat, on board. Lurie said Gallagher was "politically savvy" and had known Bryant would give the school badly needed clout in Trenton.

The defense has argued that Bryant - a clearly talented person, with deep connections in the community - was seen as an obvious and proper asset to add to the school's administration.

But prosecutors said the job description for a "program support coordinator" was a "sham" that made no mention of Bryant's true duties: securing state funding for the school.

"He gets paid, he delivers," Lurie said.

The job was posted on the university's human-resources Web site in February 2003, even though documents showed the position had been created solely for Bryant.

Other candidates applied, and osteopathic school officials gave a "courtesy interview" to one who had political connections. They also interviewed Bryant, then drew up memos explaining why Bryant should be hired over the other candidate.

"Why interview him? He's already the selected candidate," Lurie said. "If there's nothing wrong with what you're doing, why go through this charade?"

Gallagher's attorney, Jeremy Frey, acknowledged that the job had been created for Bryant - and said there was nothing wrong with that. The interview process did not violate any of the school's policies or any law, he said.

From the beginning, Frey said, top university administrators and lawyers approved the hiring.

"It comes down, it's checked out, it's vetted, everyone's OK," he said. "No one thought, no one hesitated . . . about the legality of what they were doing."

Lurie noted that John Crosbie, a top official at the osteopathic school, had testified that Bryant told him the Office of Legislative Services, which provides legal advice to lawmakers, approved the job. Bryant, in fact, never asked the office for an opinion.

"Why is Sen. Bryant lying to John Crosbie about getting OLS approval?" Lurie asked the jurors. "It's wrong. He knows it's wrong."

Poplar said, essentially, that jurors had only Crosbie's word that Bryant claimed to have sought an opinion.

Once Bryant was hired, school paperwork listed him as working three days a week - known as a 0.6 employee - even though he worked only one morning each week.

Prosecutors said Bryant had been listed as working three days to justify his $35,000 salary and pension benefits.

But in 2005, Gallagher wrote a memo calling Bryant's designation "absurd" and "a glaring error," since Bryant clearly was working just one day a week.

The defense used that memo to say the 0.6 designation was a clerical error. Prosecutors called Gallagher's memo an attempted cover-up.

"Dr. Gallagher is papering the file," Lurie said. "He wants to make it appear he had nothing to do with it being a 0.6 job."

When reporters requested information on Bryant's job, Lurie said, Gallagher agreed to supply only Bryant's job description, which did not mention that he was supposed to be securing state money for the school.

"Why isn't he saying that?" Lurie asked. "Because he can't. It's a crime."

Poplar said nothing had been concealed from reporters. In fact, several articles were written about Bryant's job at the school, including one just a few months after he was hired.

"If there was ever a job in a glass house, it was Wayne Bryant's," Poplar said.

He said dozens of people in the university's administration had known Bryant was working there and approved of his employment.

"This was a secret job?" Poplar asked rhetorically.

Bryant also never told his colleagues that he was employed at the school when he lobbied on its behalf, and he failed to list his job on his 2003 legislative disclosure form, Lurie said.

"If he thought what he was doing was OK, proper, he would have said, 'By the way, guys, I'm with SOM [the School of Osteopathic Medicine] on this one,' " he said.

Poplar again said Bryant's job had been widely known because of the media attention, and pointed out that the senator had listed his employment on his 2004 and 2005 forms. He called the 2003 omission "inadvertent."

"If he was a criminal and he wanted to conceal it, it would have been kind of silly to put it down in 2004 and 2005," Poplar said.

There also was much argument about whether Bryant did any real work for his salary. Prosecutors began by calling Bryant's job "no-show." They amended that to "low-show" after conceding Bryant did limited work, such as lecturing once a year and securing a commencement speaker.

But prosecutors said these were duties that any senator could be expected to perform for a constituent, free of charge.

"Even if he did some legitimate work," Lurie said, "this job is corrupt."

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

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|