Government

City economic development agency paid Baraka confidants $100,000

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Elite Strategies CEO Kiburi Tucker and business partner Linda Jumah, who both have close business and personal ties to the city, will be sentenced next month on charges of tax evasion and wire fraud. Credits: Semi Thompson, AEOW
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Newark, NJ--The Newark Community Economic Development Corporation (NCEDC) paid more than $100,000 to the consulting firm owned by Kiburi Tucker and Linda Jumah, who have both pleaded guilty federal charges of tax evasion.

NCEDC's one-year contract with Elite Strategies shows the firm billed the city's economic development agency $6,000 for 24 hours of "executive interviews," $1,000 for four hours of "analysis and strategic direction," $48,000 for 192 hours of "media strategy and planning" and $10,000 for 48 hours of "publication strategies and planning."

Other work done by the consulting firm includes $12,000 for 48 hours of "communication vehicle assessment"; $4,000 for 16 hours of "literature review"; $7,5000 for 52 hours of "competitive analysis, report findings, goals and audience"; $3,000 for a 12-hour "collaborative strategy workshop"; $6,000 for an "action plan collaborative strategy workshop"; $6,000 for an "evaluation of framework"; and $14,000 for 56 hours of "recommended enhancement."

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The charges range between $200 and $250 an hour.

Documents show payment was picked up by Tucker on January 13, 2015.

The contract was signed by former NCEDC president and CEO Otis Rolley, who in 2016 was given the axe amid allegations of unauthorized spending. Rolley was appointed in 2014 by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka to head the development corporation.

Tucker, 43, a longtime friend of Baraka and the son of Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker and the late former Assemblyman and Newark City Councilman Donald Tucker, pleaded guilty in November in federal court to one count of tax evasion and one count of wire fraud as part of a plea agreement.

Jumah, 35, pleaded guilty to intentionally under-reporting income that she received from Elite Strategies 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.

Repeated requests for comments regarding the charges against both Tucker and Jumah, as well as the nature of Baraka’s relationship with Jumah—the couple were shown together in pajamas in a cozy Facebook post last month—have gone unanswered by the city.

The contract with the NCEDC was released one day after TAPinto Newark filed a complaint with the state government agency that oversees the Open Public Records Act, alleging the city failed to fulfill an Open Public Records (OPRA) request for information regarding Elite Strategies' contracts with the city.

In response to the complaint, the city on Thursday unearthed records of its business dealings with Elite Strategies, releasing four separate invoices totaling $24,049 between September 1, 2014 and July 9, 2015.

The amounts include $1,1650 in Sept. 2014, two amounts in Oct. 2014 for $2,750 and $3,149, and $16,500 in July 2015—all paid out to Elite for consulting services, logo and billboard design and printing services.

The amounts and dates conflict with information cited in a Nov. 25 nj.com article, which lists payments made to Elite Strategies in the amounts $7,549 in Oct. 2014, $2,450 in Jan. 2015 and $16,500 in Sept. 2015.

The city had previously denied having any contracts or agreements with Elite Strategies between January 2013 and November 2017 in response to a November 9, 2017 OPRA request filed with the city clerk's office.

A response from the city came 40 days later—well past the mandated timeframe of one week—with the city claiming that a search had resulted in “no records found for any contract with Elite Strategies or Elite Strategies LLC authorized by the Municipal Council.”

The filing of the complaint apparently prompted city employees to look more carefully.

“Please be advised that the Office of the City Clerk has received your electronic response dated January 9, 2018, where you provide the link to an article from nj.com with a reference to Frank Baraff and Elite Strategies,” OPRA Division Manager Ana Golinski wrote in an email, which was forwarded on Jan. 11 to TAPinto Newark.

“Upon receipt of the same, OPRA resent the supplemental information you provided to the Office of the Mayor and Business Administrator for further search of responsive records to your request," Golinski wrote.

TAPinto Newark previously reported Elite Strategies received $65,000 in consulting fees from Baraka's campaign committee.

Elite Strategies organized the 2015 Mayor's Ball, an annual $1,000-a-seat gala fundraiser held at Mr. Adams Steakhouse, as well as spearheading an email blast campaign for Team Baraka. The company has also issued statements on behalf of the mayor, including an April 2016 announcement of a deal between the city and UBER.

Records show that between July 2015 and April 2017, the Baraka campaign shelled out three payments of $17,400, $19,000 and $28,000 to Elite Strategies.

Between January 2012 and December 2015, Tucker admitted that he engaged in numerous acts of wire fraud in his capacity as the executive director of The Centre Inc., a non-profit childcare center located in Newark's South Ward.

Tucker admitted that he used the ATM card assigned to The Centre for what was described in court as taking out "a steady stream of funds" ostensibly for the benefit of the childcare center. Instead, Tucker used the card to pay for personal expenses, including more than $165,000 for costs generated from travel to Hawaii and Nevada, as well as gambling expenses.

Tucker also admitted to using more than $95,000 of the childcare center's funds for personal expenses, including costs generated by personal travel, home furnishings, art and gambling, as well as a personal cash advance at a casino in Atlantic City.

In total, Tucker defrauded The Centre of more than $332,000 between 2012 and 2015, according to court documents.

Tucker is the developer behind a $10 million dollar mixed-use apartment complex in the South Ward, with the city publicly stating that it would move ahead with the project despite the charges against Tucker.

Jumah’s tax evasion charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, while Tucker faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, or twice the financial gain or loss of the victims of Tucker's activities.

Both Tucker and Jumah will be sentenced next month.

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