NEWARK, NJ — Mayor Ras Baraka today called on West Ward Councilman Joseph McCallum to step down from his position if the federal wire fraud charges against him are true.
Baraka's statement comes one a day after 65-year-old McCallum was charged by the U.S. Attorney's Office with one count of wire fraud in an alleged kickback scheme to defraud Newark and Invest Newark, a nonprofit economic development agency that also acts as the city's landbank institution.
“On behalf of the City of Newark, we do not condone any of the actions within city government that have allegedly occurred and will cooperate with the investigation," Baraka said. "With that being said, we also send prayers to Council Member Joseph McCallum and his family during what must be a difficult time. We do hope that these allegations are not true. However, if in fact, they are, then he should consider the West Ward and the City of Newark by resigning and allowing us to heal and move on.”
McCallum's defense counsel, Tim Donohue of Arleo & Donohue, said he plans to defend against the charges and prove McCallum's innocence.
A secretary for the City Clerk's office said McCallum was not present at Wednesday's regularly scheduled council meeting. The live meeting was not made available to the public, but a student assistant told TAPinto Newark that a recording may be posted on the City Council website later on.
Under New Jersey's Open Public Meetings Act, the city is required to make meetings accessible to every member of the public. As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, the council still has not uploaded a recording of Wednesday's meeting, nor has it finalized the minutes.
McCallum's rival in the 2018 Newark West Ward run-off election, Mecca Keys, also issued a statement on Wednesday calling for the councilman's resignation.
"I call for Councilman McCallum to step down IMMEDIATELY, and to be relieved from his position on the Board of Directors of the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation (NCEDC), which by all standards is a conflict of interest," she said. "Mr. McCallum has a moral judgement call to face. If he genuinely believes in Newark and moving the city forward, he will no longer take another hard-working cash strapped taxpayers’ cent or allow the city to handle his legal defense fund."
According to court documents, from 2017 to 2020, McCallum planned to receive concealed bribes and kickbacks from co-conspirator Malik Frederick, a Newark business developer who pleaded guilty on Tuesday to conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, and failing to report income over $100,000 on in his 2017 taxes. The funds allegedly came from developers, contracting companies and other businesses seeking contracts and approvals related to the development, construction and real estate projects.
McCallum is charged with receiving a $16,000 bribe from a contracting company, a $25,000 bribe from a developer and $500 in cash to conceal travel expenses for an out-of-country trip to secure a $50,000 payment from another developer. The government also charges that McCallum also solicited payments from a property seller in the West Ward as well as a developer who was looking to buy the property.
An unnamed official from Invest Newark, an economic development corporation that mostly does work with the city, is also said to have participated in the scheme. Council was slated to vote on the execution of a trust between Newark and Invest Newark to hold properties on behalf of the city.
The company, currently lead by CEO Bernel Hall, did not respond to comment but removed McCallum from its board of directors on its website on Tuesday.
The city awarded a $5 million land bank agreement to Invest Newark, formerly the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation, in April. The former NCEDC, which was named the Brick City Development Corporation in its first iteration, has had its share of turmoil. Its first CEO, Victor Emenuga, accused the Baraka administration of wrongfully terminating him and won a $90,000 settlement.
Emenuga's successor, Otis Rolley, claimed he was locked out of his office without being able to leave with dignity. Baraka accused Rolley of approving bonuses without approval from the Newark CEDC board.
McCallum faces a maximum of 20 years of prison and a fine of $250,000. His court date has not yet been scheduled.