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N.J. state senator indicted on fraud charges

State Sen. Wayne Bryant, one of New Jersey’s most powerful lawmakers, was indicted Thursday on federal corruption and fraud charges, according to a federal prosecutor’s office.
/ Source: The Associated Press

State Sen. Wayne Bryant, one of New Jersey’s most powerful lawmakers, was indicted Thursday on federal corruption and fraud charges, according to a federal prosecutor’s office.

R. Michael Gallagher, the former dean of the state University of Medicine and Dentistry’s School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford was also indicted on Thursday, the office said in a statement.

Bryant, the former Senate budget chairman who represents Camden—the nation’s poorest city—and Gallagher were named in a 20-count indictment released by U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie.

The charges stem from a federal monitor’s report in September that looked into alleged corruption at UMDNJ, the state medical school that promotes itself as the nation’s largest health sciences university.

The monitor found UMDNJ created a job for Bryant in 2003 and that he showed up only one morning per week at most, did little more than read newspapers, yet was paid $35,000 per year. During that time, Bryant helped bring $12.8 million in state money to the school through his role as the Senate budget chairman.

A federal monitor also recently alleged Gallagher altered financial reports to get a $15,000 bonus and racked up thousands in fancy meals, liquor and posh hotel stays on school accounts.

Neither Bryant nor Gallagher was expected in court Thursday, the office said, noting Bryant is apparently on vacation and out of the country.

The indictment accuses Gallagher of creating a job expressly for Bryant at the School of Osteopathic Medicine. In exchange, the senator was to use his position in the Legislature to advocate for the school.

Bryant collected more than $113,000 over four years from the school and earned credits toward his pension as part of the scheme, the indictment said. He also failed to disclose the job on his financial disclosure forms, a violation of the state’s ethics code, it charged.

In exchange for the job, Bryant steered millions in state allocations to the school, according to the charges.

The senator also allegedly boosted his pension fraudulently with jobs at UMDNJ and Rutgers University-Camden, where he was paid as a part-time adjunct and student mentor but reportedly did little work.

The indictment alleges Bryant worked 15 hours for Gloucester County Board of Social Services over four years, yet received about $200,000, largely by billing the board for work performed by others within his law firm.

Bryant resigned from the budget panel shortly after the monitor’s report was released and has declined to comment beyond deeming the report inaccurate.

He remains a senator, but announced he wouldn’t seek re-election.

“This has to be one of the saddest days in New Jersey politics,” said Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, R-Morris.

Gallagher is accused of paying himself bonuses, in violation of university rules, and of inflating profits to make the bonuses bigger. His Headache Center-related bonuses amounted to more than $50,000 over three years, from 2002-2004, the indictment alleges.

Meanwhile, the federal investigation into Bryant has grown into a larger investigation delving into how the state budget has been developed since 2004. So far, Christie has subpoenaed budget documents from the governor’s office, legislative leaders and staff, at least three lawmakers and two state departments.

“New Jersey is being suffocated by a cloud of political corruption and there is no indication that it will dissipate anytime soon,” said Assemblyman Peter Biondi, R-Somerset.

Bryant, 59, of Lawnside, joined the Assembly in 1982 and became a senator in 1995.

As a legislator, Bryant, generally considered a liberal Democrat, received national attention in 1992 for successfully pushing to welfare reform laws so women wouldn’t get additional benefits when they had more children. He was also the driving force behind a bill to give Camden millions in state funding to try to combat poverty and blight.