on July 25, 2009 at 6:37 AM, updated July 25, 2009 at 12:32 PM
TRENTON — Former Sen. Wayne Bryant, once a titan of New Jersey politics, was sentenced Friday to four years in federal prison for trading his clout as budget chairman for a low-work job to boost his taxpayer-funded pension.
In handing down the sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Freda Wolfson in Trenton said public officials need to understand they cannot use their office for their own personal gain.
“You’re not going to get a walk when you engage in this kind of activity,” she said.
Bryant, who served more than a quarter century in the Legislature, told the judge that if he could turn back time, he would do things differently.
“I cannot express how deeply sorry I am for the scorn my actions have caused,” said Bryant, who choked up while apologizing for his crimes.
A jury convicted Bryant (D-Camden) of 12 counts of pension fraud and bribery eight months ago, after a high profile trial that exposed a secretive and easily manipulated state budget process.
Bryant, who left office in 2007, helped steer $10.5 million in state grants to his employer, a school within the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Now he will have to pay $113,167 in restitution to UMDNJ and a $25,000 fine.
Wolfson said Bryant gave up his impartiality as a legislator when he accepted the low-show, $35,000-a-year job at UMDNJ in exchange for his influence, even if he intended to help his constituents by steering money to the school.
“It was the manner by which it was undertaken to subvert the system,” the judge said.
Wolfson also chided Bryant for his “low-show” job as a part-time attorney for the Gloucester County Board of Social Services – which helped to raise his pension from $28,000 to $81,000 a year. She said his actions were improper, despite his argument other attorneys also sent law firm associates to complete such work.
“It won’t fly,” Wolfson said. “Because ultimately to obtain a pension you have to do the work.”
Wolfson also sentenced former UMDNJ dean R. Michael Gallagher to a year-and-a-half in federal prison for bribing Bryant with the $35,000-a-year job at the university’s School of Osteopathic Medicine in Camden County.
His attorneys had requested he only receive house arrest and community service, so he could care for his mother, wife and sister, who all have health problems.
“I am so remorseful for having been involved in this,” said Gallagher. “I’ve regretted it every day of my life since.”
Gallagher also must pay a fine of $15,000 and $113,167 in restitution.
Gov. Jon Corzine said Bryant’s punishment is a warning to those state and local officials involved in illegal acts.
“Public corruption on any level cannot be tolerated, and any official who engages in such practices must be prosecuted under the fullest extent of the law,” said Corzine. “It is my hope that this still sends a clear message that public officials who break the law will go to jail.”
More than 100 people packed into the courtroom during the eight hours of court proceedings, including a string of friends and clergymen who pleaded for Bryant’s leniency.
The Rev. John A. Jones urged the judge to “be merciful today.” “His good has far out-distanced the bad,” Jones said.
Bryant endured the sudden death of his only child, Wayne Jr., 37, in 2006, “a sentence within itself,” Jones said.
Former Camden Mayor and State Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Randy Primas came from South Carolina to describe how “courageous” Bryant was for introducing welfare reform in the early 1990s that demanded more accountability from clients.
“Wayne Bryant gets up everyday to make life better for the less fortunate,” Primas said.
Wolfson said she took those words into account when administering Bryant’s sentence.
“A larger sentence,” said Wolfson, “would ignore many of the personal characteristics and your personal history.”
The sentencing came one day after federal law enforcement announced public corruption and money-laundering busts that swept up 44 people on Thursday, including two assemblymen, four mayors and several rabbis.
Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra referred to the sweeping corruption, saying that Bryant was “one of the architects” of the “crooked world” in New Jersey politics.
Statehouse Bureau reporters Mary Fuchs and Susan K. Livio contributed to this report.