The corruption trial of former state Sen. Wayne Bryant, a prominent South Jersey Democrat, is giving the Gloucester County Republican Party hope of capturing its first seat in county government in a decade.
The GOP is setting its sights on Bryant ally Warren S. Wallace, who is running for a third term on the Board of Freeholders, even though he could be called to testify in the high-profile trial.
Wallace was among at least seven top officials at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey who have been fired or forced to resign over the last two years after a federal investigation revealed widespread financial irregularities and misconduct.
Wallace was fired from his $600,000 position as an associate dean of academic and student affairs at the university's School of Osteopathic Medicine on June 4, 2006, the day before a federal monitor labeled his activities "unethical at minimum." He was never criminally charged.
Bryant, his longtime political associate, was indicted for soliciting a no-show job at UMDNJ in return for steering millions in state funds to the school, among other things.
Wallace's boss at UMDNJ, former dean R. Michael Gallagher, was charged with creating the fake job and doctoring financial records.
Gallagher is on trial with Bryant and the court proceeding could last through Election Day. Both resigned before Wallace was ousted.
During jury selection last week, Wallace was named "a person of interest" who may be called to testify for the prosecution or the defense.
Contacted at his home in Sewell, Wallace said: "Nobody has asked me to be a witness." He said he was surprised to see his name listed in a news account.
Wallace, 59, declined further comment and referred questions to his attorney.
"He is under such a cloud of suspicion and still he has the arrogance to run for office," said Larry Wallace, a GOP candidate for freeholder. The two are not related.
Larry Wallace said his opponent should have resigned.
Gov. Corzine called for Warren Wallace to resign as chair of the Delaware River and Bay Authority after the investigator released his findings. Wallace refused and was not reappointed in 2006.
The Republican attack on Wallace has advanced to the Internet. Googling his name quickly turns up a GOP-created Web site and link that features images of a shredding machine and a mountain of documents-turned-confetti. The link,
, pokes fun at Wallace for being the target of an FBI raid after a tipster said evidence in his school office was being shredded. The Web site offers tongue-in-cheek advice on how to conceal mistakes, Wallace-style.
"He still has never answered questions about the allegations or the shredding," Larry Wallace said.
Soon after the raid, federal investigators subpoenaed school documents and issued a 15-page report outlining their findings on Wallace.
The report said Wallace spent most of his time as dean on political activities; that he helped a friend get a no-bid cafeteria and catering job at the college worth more than $300,000; and that he manipulated the petty-cash system to pay his personal travel expenses.
Wallace also pressured staff to interview and accept one of his daughters to the medical school even though she had not taken the required entrance examination or provided essays, according to the federal monitor. A committee approved her, but she later withdrew her application.
After a two-year silence on the report, Wallace issued a five-page written statement in June denying any wrongdoing. A few days earlier, he filed a lawsuit against the school, saying his firing was racially motivated.
Wallace, who is African American, said the school retaliated against him for complaining it was not hiring and not admitting as students enough minorities.
Yet Wallace, who worked there 16 years, previously had bragged that the school had a 25 percent minority enrollment, one of the highest ratios for health sciences schools in the country. And, he was among several African American school officials.
"That doesn't mean there's no discrimination against others," Wallace said.
"What startled me the most was the president never spoke to me; the monitor never spoke to me; the dean never spoke to me, and then the dean called me at home and asked for my resignation," Wallace said. "I was never allowed to come in and talk about it."
UMDNJ officials said the lawsuit is not valid. And the federal monitor said he had attempted to interview Wallace twice, but Wallace referred calls to his lawyer and an interview could not be arranged.
In his written statement, given to the news media, Wallace said the time he spent as dean dealing with freeholder business was not political, but public, and that he never abused travel expenses. He denied any role in approving the cafeteria contract or using his influence to get a relative an admissions interview.
"The historical practice has been to grant interviews to all applicants who are the children of [the school's] faculty/administrators," he wrote.
"I unequivocally state that I did nothing illegal or improper."
He declined to answer any questions, saying his lawyer forbade him.
Rocco Cipparone, his attorney, said his client was never charged with a crime, but it is unknown whether the investigation is over. "If I had a letter from the U.S. Attorney saying he's not a target or a subject, then he could comment. But you never get a letter like that," he said.
Cipparone said Wallace is innocent and the allegations should not hinder his candidacy. "He has adequately refuted them," Cipparone said.
Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said it's not too unusual for a candidate to run for office after being investigated.
"Sometimes voters are much more forgiving than the press or the people following a story," he said.
But if there's a trial, and a candidate is called to testify, all bets are off, Zelizer said.
"There's a certain amount of down time after an investigation ends, and people forget," he said. "But when a trial is going on, it's not a good thing and often there's a lot of pressure to step down."
Wallace says he has no plans to drop out of the race, even if called to the witness stand. Opening statements in the trial are set for today.
"I'm going to campaign until it's over," said Wallace, now a family counselor. "I'm in this to stay and I'm in this to win. I have gotten a lot of encouragement, and support, and also I have a lot of faith."