A major New Jersey engineering firm and seven of its former top executives have pleaded not guilty to charges they circumvented the state's pay-to-play laws.

Birdsall Engineering and the other defendants, including its retired chief executive, Howard Birdsall, entered their pleas Monday during a court hearing in Toms River.

State authorities say the defendants disguised more than $686,000 in illegal corporate political contributions as donations made by company employees. The donations were made in amounts of $300 or less, which do not have to be reported to state election officials.

Prosecutors say the donations went to various officials, both Democrats and Republicans, responsible for granting the firm millions of dollars in public contracts.

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