Bribes, Payoffs, Politics: Bryant out as budget chairman over ethics concerns

Bryant out as budget chairman over ethics concerns
9/25/2006, (AP)

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Influential state Sen. Wayne Bryant, accused of having a no-work job with a state medical school he helped get millions in taxpayer dollars, has stepped down as chair of the Senate budget committee amid increasing pressure from Legislative leaders.

Senate President Richard J. Codey announced Bryant's removal early Monday afternoon, a week after a federal monitor appointed to look into possible Medicare and Medicaid fraud at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey found the school created a job for Bryant in 2003.

The monitor, who was appointed last year, found Bryant showed up only one morning per week — at most — and did nothing more than read newspapers, yet was paid $35,000 per year. Meanwhile, Bryant, who wielded great control over state money through his budget committee chairmanship, helped bring $12.8 million in additional state funding to the school over three years.

Bryant was the main engineer of a 2002 state bailout package for Camden. In it, the state agreed to give the impoverished city $175 million to go toward expanding the city's hospitals and universities, expanding infrastructure and other projects.

Within a year after the bill was passed, he was on the payroll of both UMDNJ and Rutgers-Camden, two major recipients of the state's help.

"After careful consideration and discussion, Sen. Bryant and I agreed that this decision was in the best interest of everyone involved," Codey said in a statement.

Codey appointed Senate Majority Leader Bernard F. Kenny, D-Hudson, to lead the key committee effective Monday. He chose Kenny over the committee's vice chairman, Sharpe James, D-Essex, who is facing scandal as well. The Star-Ledger of Newark reported Monday that he ran up $48,000 in expenses on city credit cards during his last three months in office.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine had suggested Bryant should step down as budget chairman, though Codey last week said he would wait until the legal process played out before making a decision.

But Bryant sent a letter to Codey on Monday that simply stated, "After thoughtful discussion with you during the week, I request that I temporarily step down from the Budget and Appropriations process and that an interim chairperson be appointed."

Bryant couldn't immediately be reached for comment. Last week he deemed the monitor's report inaccurate, but declined numerous requests to elaborate and comment further.

Bryant hasn't been charged with a crime in the report, which was delivered to U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie.

However, controversy has found Bryant regularly. On Saturday, the Courier-Post of Cherry Hill reported that he cast the deciding vote to give an extra — and unexplained — $1 million in state money to Camden.

Codey said Kenny will remain budget chairman "until such time as this issue resolves itself."

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