EXCLUSIVE: NJ mayor says, 'I'm innocent!'
HAMILTON TWP., NJ - July 11, 2012 (WPVI) -- He's accused of extortion, money laundering and other corruption charges.
But Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo remains on the job despite calls from the governor, local Democrats and others that he step down.
"Well everybody has an opinion but you know what? I have a constitutional right and I believe in the constitution and that's what I stick by," Bencivengo told Action News.
In April, Bencivengo was charged with taking $12,400 in bribes from the school district's insurance broker, who recorded conversations with the mayor for the FBI.
The township's former planning director Rob Warney has already pleaded guilty to being the middleman who laundered the money for the mayor. But Bencivengo says he's done nothing wrong.
He'll be back in federal court Thursday to answer the charges against him.
Off-camera the mayor told me he plans to plead not guilty at his arraignment. He maintains the money he accepted was a loan, not a bribe.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again," he told me. "I'm innocent."
But Bencivengo, who earns $108,000 a year heading New Jersey's 9th largest municipality, acknowledges that while he continues his duties and remains at work, there are moments.
"Listen I would lie if I said I wasn't feeling the pressure. Of course. I'm a strong man and I have courage," he said.
And he says he takes comfort from those who continue to support him.
"People have actually stopped and prayed with me. I really appreciate that, I love my people here," he said.
Bencivengo says regardless of what his critics say, and until he has his day in court, he's determined to stay focused and stay on the job despite the corruption charges clouding his administration.
new jersey, corruption, mercer county, local/state, nora muchanic
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