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Judge dismisses one charge against Bryant

She set a Sept. 8 trial date for 12 other charges against the former state senator from Camden County.

A federal judge in Trenton has dismissed one of the fraud and political corruption counts against former State Sen. Wayne Bryant, but allowed 12 other charges to stand.

District Judge Freda Wolfson issued her opinion Thursday night, about three months after hearing oral arguments on defense motions seeking to dismiss all charges against Bryant and codefendant R. Michael Gallagher.

The judge set a Sept. 8 trial date for the men, who have pleaded not guilty.

"We are gratified by the court's rulings on the indictment against Bryant and Gallagher," U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said in a statement. "We now look forward to going to trial as soon as possible."

Bryant's attorney, Carl Poplar, did not return a phone call seeking comment. Gallagher's attorney, Jeremy Frey, said he could not comment.

Bryant, a Camden County Democrat and former chair of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, was accused of accepting a $35,000-a-year no-show job at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). In exchange, prosecutors said, he steered millions of dollars from the state to the public university.

Gallagher, a former dean of the university's School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, is accused of arranging Bryant's job and making it appear that Bryant had done work.

Both were indicted by a federal grand jury in Trenton last year. Bryant did not run for reelection last year after he was indicted.

Bryant's attorneys argued that there was nothing illegal about Bryant's holding a job at UMDNJ or lobbying on its behalf. And, they said, there was no proof that he took any action on the school's behalf that he would not have if he had not been employed there.

But Wolfson ruled that the indictment sufficiently describes "a classic bribery scheme" in which Bryant is accused of accepting payment for his services.

"When an official makes a quid pro quo bribery agreement . . . he ceases making decisions according to his best judgment as a legislator . . . and allows the payor to place a thumb on the scale of his decision-making process," the judge wrote.

Bryant held two other public jobs - as an attorney for the Gloucester County Board of Social Services and as an adjunct professor at Rutgers University-Camden. Prosecutors said he did little or no work in those jobs either.

From 2003 to 2005, when he held his Senate seat and the three public jobs, Bryant illegally increased the value of his public pension from $28,000 a year to $81,000, prosecutors said.

Wolfson dismissed the charge against Bryant related to his employment at Rutgers. She said there was "no standard" for Bryant to know whether his work there was sufficient to warrant applying for pension benefits.

She said that even if Bryant gave just one lecture a year, Rutgers administrators were within their rights to decide if that was meaningful enough to earn his salary.

But Wolfson said the pension fraud charges related to Gloucester County Social Services and UMDNJ should stand because Bryant has been accused of making false statements about how much work he performed.

Prosecutors said Bryant farmed out nearly all of the work done for the Social Services board to other lawyers in his firm, then filed false time sheets that stated "the above entries represent the hours I have worked."

At his UMDNJ job, Bryant was accused of accumulating pensionable income as if he worked three full days a week for the school when he actually appeared on campus for only a half-day every week.

Prosecutors also said that he did not perform any legitimate work and that his only job was to illegally use his position as senator to benefit the school.

Wolfson also agreed to sever six of the 13 counts against Gallagher into a separate trial. Those counts are related to allegations that Gallagher engaged in a scheme at UMDNJ to pay himself bonuses - charges unrelated to Bryant.

Wolfson said she feared that hearing those charges with the others could poison a trial because Gallagher had raised a "serious constitutional issue" about the bonus-scheme allegations.

Wolfson said she "has flagged the possibility of a Rule 29 motion," a defense motion to dismiss the charges at trial.