58-year-old John Bencivengo, the Republican mayor of New Jersey's ninth largest town, appeared in federal court this morning.
He's charged with accepting over $12,000 in bribes for allegedly influencing a Hamilton school board member to give a health insurance broker a no-bid contract with the district.
"There was no extortion; there was no exchange, no demand of money in exchange for acts offered by the mayor," defense attorney Jerome Ballarotto said.
In its complaint, the FBI alleges Bencivengo told a confidential witness he needed money to pay taxes and living expenses.
An intermediary was used to collect the bribe money and if anyone asked about one particular $5,000 payment, the witness was supposed to say it was for the purchase of a bedroom set.
"I really can't believe it. I didn't think he was that type of person," resident Geri Fejko said.
"Everybody has money problems, everybody does, and for him to take something like that? People are not going to be happ," resident Eileen Monacchio said.
"I'm sorry to hear about it, but if he's guilty he' going to get what he deserve," resident William Brown said.
The school district isn't talking, but says it's cooperating with the feds.
Bencivengo, who makes $98,000 a year, has been mayor since 2007 and at this point his lawyer says he has no plans to resign.
Jerome Ballarotto also says the government has audio and video recordings they've played for him, but he's not worried.
"Hopefully everything that transpired between this informant and the mayor that was recorded will demonstrate that there was no extortion," Ballarotto said.
If Bencivengo is convicted on the corruption charge he could face up to 20 years in jail.
He's currently out on $100,000 non-secured bail.