A federal judge in Trenton has begun weighing the fate of former State Sen. Wayne Bryant, who is already serving a four-year sentence for a corruption conviction and who could end up with additional jail time if convicted in the case pending against him.
Testimony in the nonjury trial before Judge Freda L. Wolfson ended in February, but the judge gave the prosecution and defense a May 8 deadline to file legal briefs. The documents, more than 100 pages from the prosecution and 58 pages from the defense, summarize and expand on arguments and evidence introduced during the three-week trial.
Wolfson has given no indication when she will issue her finding of facts, the equivalent of a jury verdict in a typical trial.
Bryant, 64, could be sentenced to up to 10 more years in prison if found guilty of charges that he did the legislative bidding of a North Carolina developer in exchange for what the government alleged was a bogus legal retainer that paid his Camden County law firm $8,000 a month over two years beginning in 2004.
As they had during the trial, prosecutors argued in the most recent filings that the agreement was a "sham," adding that "none of the work specified in the retainer agreement was ever contemplated, needed, wanted, discussed, or performed."
Bryant's court-appointed defense attorney, Henry E. Klingeman, contended that neither the government's evidence nor its witnesses supported any of the allegations in the 22-count indictment handed up against his client. He urged Wolfson to find Bryant not guilty, arguing that the government presented a circumstantial case and "had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt" any of the charges.
"The basic facts in this trial were never in dispute," Klingeman wrote. But, he said, the government's interpretation of those facts was "tendentious" and designed to fit the prosecution's theory of what happened, rather than what the evidence proved.
Prosecutors argued that instead of serving the interests of his constituents, Bryant did the bidding of Cherokee Investment Partners, a developer that in 2004 had three major projects on the drawing boards in New Jersey. These included a $1 billion gentrification plan for the Cramer Hill section of Camden, a similar plan for Petty's Island in neighboring Pennsauken, and a combination resort-residential development for the Meadowlands in North Jersey.
All three projects have been abandoned.
Investigators alleged that Eric Wisler, a prominent North Jersey lawyer hired by Cherokee, set up a deal through which the developer would pay Bryant legal fees that were really bribes. In exchange, Bryant allegedly agreed to support legislation that would favor the development projects and oppose legislation that might thwart them.
Even when residents of Cramer Hill protested the Cherokee plan, which could have displaced about 2,500 people, authorities said Bryant continued to support it.
The "quid pro quo" was arranged by Wisler, who was also indicted with Bryant in the case, according to an indictment in September 2010. Wisler died after a long battle with colon cancer in August, months before the trial began.
Klingeman argued throughout the trial that it was not illegal for a lawyer to take a retainer for which no work is done. In effect, he said, the lawyer was on call for the client. He also pointed out that Bryant was just one of many elected officials who supported the Cramer Hill project as part of a much-needed push to redevelop Camden.
In his filing, Klingeman argued that "the government has failed to prove that Mr. Bryant took official action he otherwise would not have taken." Instead, he said, prosecutors offered "assumptions, speculation, and guesswork."
Prosecutors argued that Bryant's bribe-taking in the Cherokee case was part of a pattern, pointing out that he had already been convicted of accepting payments through a low-show job at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in exchange for promoting legislation that benefited the school and steering millions of dollars in state aid to it.
That scheme, prosecutors wrote, was taking place at the same time as the alleged Cherokee scam.
Bryant served in the state Senate, representing Camden County from 1995 to 2008. He did not seek reelection after being indicted in the UMDNJ case. He was convicted in November 2008 after a jury trial before Wolfson. She subsequently sentenced him to 48 months in prison.
According to Bureau of Prison records, Bryant is eligible for release in February.