Government

Chaneyfield Jenkins proposes legislation to prohibit city from rewarding criminal activity

Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins will be introducing legislation that would prohibit anyone who has been charged with a federal crime from receiving funds from the city. Credits: Elana Knopp

Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins said she is planning to introduce legislation that would prohibit anyone who has been charged, plead guilty or been convicted of a federal crime from receiving any funds from the city.

Chaneyfield Jenkins has asked the city clerk to draft an ordinance for introduction at the next city council meeting, stating the ordinance should also retroactively apply to anyone who has received funds for an ongoing project.

“An ordinance like this should not be necessary because it seems so self-evident that we should not reward criminal behavior with city funding,” Chaneyfield Jenkins said. “Unfortunately, we have an administration that thinks it’s okay to award our tax dollars to federal felons and those charged with federal crimes.”

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Chaneyfield Jenkins introduced the drafting of the ordinance at the Dec. 6 meeting of the city council.

Eight council members voted in favor of the measure, with Council President Mildred Crump the sole vote against drafting the legislation.

The ordinance will be introduced at the Dec. 20 meeting of the council.

Chaneyfield Jenkins cited Victor Santos-- who was recently charged in a federal complaint--and Kiburi Tucker, who has been charged with federal crimes, as involved in ongoing projects that have received city funding.

Santos, a Watchung real estate investor who is building Newark's new Department of Public Works garage, was arrested in October along with three others on federal charges of using “straw buyers” to fraudulently obtain mortgage loans from a bank.

The U.S. Attorney's Office alleges that from September 2007 through November 2008 that Santos, along with real estate attorney Fausto Simoes and two others, allegedly conspired to fraudulently obtain mortgage loans totalling more than $5 million.

The city's DPW project—located at 52-90 Amsterdam St. in the city's Ironbound neighborhood—will include two one-story motor vehicle storage buildings, a one-story motor vehicle repair garage, a four-story parking deck with 227 spaces and a seven-story office building. The garage would provide washing, fueling, and repairs for city vehicles.

In 2016, the Newark city council approved a 25-year lease of the property, with the city paying a rent of $4.7 million for the first year and eventually rising to more than $7 million in the 25th year.

The property lies at the center of a lawsuit filed by former city attorney Willie Parker against Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, the mayor's brother and chief of staff Amiri Baraka, Jr., and two top city officials.

Parker raised objections to the multi-million 52 Amsterdam development deal between the city and Santos when he discovered an added provision to the 40-page contract which called for the City of Newark to continue paying rent even in the case of unforeseen events, such as a natural disaster, kept it from using the property.

The incident marked the beginning of an alleged string of retaliatory measures. 

Parker later suffered a heart attack and was ultimately fired. He is suing for up to $5 million in damages.

In a statement last month, Santos' attorneys Lawrence Lustberg and Kevin Walsh said their client would be stepping down from a managerial role with the landlord of the project.

But Chaneyfield Jenkins asked at the meeting what “stepping down” actually meant.

“What does stepping aside mean?” said Chaneyfield Jenkins. “If the person owns the property, what does that mean? The taxpayers need to know.”

Tucker, a partner in a development group building a $10 million mixed-use apartment complex in the South Ward, pleaded guilty in November to federal tax and wire fraud charges.

The partnership, Bergen Street Redevelopment Urban Renewal LLC, is receiving $3 million in tax breaks, among other incentives.

“It doesn’t matter that these contracts were awarded before the criminal activity came to light, or that the criminal activity is unrelated to the contract,” Chaneyfield Jenkins said. “As a city, we have a choice in who we give our tax dollars to. By awarding criminal activity, we are sending the wrong message to our own citizens and to the rest of the state.”

Tucker is the CEO of Elite Strategies, LLC, a consulting company he co-owned with Linda Jumah, who pleaded guilty last month in federal court to intentionally under-reporting income that she received from the company in 2015 by filing a false federal personal income tax return.

Jumah admitted that after sharing proceeds with a business partner, she under-reported $121,941 in income for the 2015 tax year, resulting in a tax loss of $39,633. 

Tucker is a longtime friend of Mayor Ras Baraka and the son of Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker and the late former Assemblyman and Newark City Councilman Donald Tucker.

Crump explained her vote against drafting the legislation. 

“Someone gave me a second chance when I did something wrong,” she said, alluding to the measure as punitive.

But Chaneyfield Jenkins said the council had a responsibility to Newark residents.

“We have a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers,” she said. “We need clarity. How do we not protect the taxpayers’ money?”

Chaneyfield Jenkins also referenced an exclusive report in TAPinto Newark, which revealed that the city's 27-member Executive Protection Unit has racked up more than a million dollars in overtime between January 1, 2017 and August 25, 2017.

Records show the security unit includes 27 police officers, all earning a base salary of approximately $100,000 and earning overtime payments totaling $1,121,557. 20.

Overtime payments for each individual officer ranged between $15,000 and $108,000 during the time period.

Newark Police Captain and Public Information Officer Derek Glenn said in a statement that the primary responsibility of the Executive Protective Unit is to provide security for the "mayor and his designees."

“I’d like a breakdown for the Executive Protection Unit,” Chaneyfield Jenkins said. “I want to know who’s being protected. Who are the mayor’s designees? Who are these people and who is getting police protection?”

 

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