White-Collar Crime

Once-Powerful Lawmaker On Trial for Bribery re $8K-Per-Month Law Firm Retainer Payments

A former longtime New Jersey lawmaker is being tried in federal court in Trenton, on charges that the $8,000-per-month retainer payments his law firm received from 2004 to 2006 from an attorney for a North Carolina developer were in fact bribes.

Onetime state senator Wayne Bryant, 64, is accused of secretly entering into the retainer agreement, unbeknownst to other partners in the law firm of the developer’s attorney, while doing no legal work in exchange for the payments, according to the Asbury Park Press and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The government contends that the $192,000 received by the firm from Cherokee Investment Partners was actually payment for Bryant’s favorable votes on legislation that would benefit the developer and resistance to legislation that would not.

Bryant’s court-appointed lawyer, Henry E. Klingeman, said he plans to prove to the judge in the bench trial “an entirely different scenario based on the same set of facts,” the Inquirer reports. He said Bryant’s retainer agreement was legal, and that he planned to provide legal services for a North Jersey project in the Meadowlands being pursued by the developer outside of Bryant’s legislative arena in South Jersey.

Bryant is currently serving time for a prior, unrelated conviction.

His co-defendant, attorney Eric Wisler, died of cancer last year. Wisler was indicted concerning his work as lead counsel for Cherokee, a private-equity firm, and its subsidiary, EnCap, the Record reports.

Members of Wisler’s law firm, DeCotiis FitzPatrick & Cole, told U.S. District Judge Judge Freda L. Wolfson, who is trying the case, they knew nothing of the retainer agreement with Bryant until it turned up in a collection of documents gathered by a staff member in response to a grand jury subpoena from the New Jersey attorney general’s office.

At that point, in addition to turning the document over, the firm immediately terminated the agreement and discontinued the payments, a partner told the judge.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Law Firm’s $8K Monthly ‘Retainer’ Payments to Another Law Firm Were Bribes, Indictment Says”

ABAJournal.com: “Former Law Firm MP and Ex-NJ State Sen. Arraigned in ‘Retainer’ Legislative Bribe Case”

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy and the ABA Code of Conduct.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.