NEWARK, NJ — Kiburi Tucker, scion of one of Newark's most prominent political families and longtime friend of Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, has re-entered the city after completing his sentence in federal prison.
He's living in a halfway house on Frelinghuysen Avenue not far from his home and the childcare center he admitted to defrauding. He's landed a job, working for a friend in the private sector. And he's working on rebuilding his life, starting with his family.
"Family was always primary to me. You know, I think when you go through certain things, you get a clearer vision. You know your purpose and figure out what your real purpose in life is," said Tucker, 45, the married father of a 3-year-old daughter. "And my purpose is to be there for my family."
In an exclusive interview with TAPinto Newark, Tucker spoke at length about what he learned after serving 17 months in the U.S. penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
He said he has had time to reflect on his criminal activity and how it impacted his family, friends and the city he calls home.
"I let the hustle of being involved in all these different things, within the city here, politics, consulting, real estate, what have you, all just really trying to define myself - I let it get in the way. And also the fact that while I was doing those things I was drinking heavily, that played a major part," Tucker said. "I haven't been drinking, don't plan on drinking, can't drink, I get tested. I haven't had a drink in two years."
Tucker's life currently has limits defined by his halfway house's conditions. He leaves for work at about 7:30 in the morning and is back by 8:30 at night. Tucker is able to go to his home in Newark on weekends, and he stated that he sometimes has passes to do things such as go to the gym, go out to eat, or go shopping.
It's a much different life than he led before he was charged by federal law enforcement with five counts of wire fraud and tax evasion.
Back then, Tucker lived a lavish lifestyle that included gambling, driving a Maserati, and trips to Hawaii and Nevada. It was all paid for with funds he embezzled from The Centre, a non-profit organization started by his father that provided child care for Newark children.
He used The Centre as his personal piggy bank withdrawing "a steady stream of funds" using the ATM card assigned to The Centre falsely for the benefit of the child care center, according to court documents.
In total, Tucker defrauded The Centre of more than $332,116 from 2012 through 2015, according to court documents.
Tucker previously expressed remorse for his actions in federal court.
"I'm tremendously embarrassed for doing what I did, which hurt my family, my friends, and my community," said Tucker, the son of Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker and the late Assemblyman and City Council President Donald Tucker, when he pleaded guilty. "They depended on me, and they supported me. And I let them down."
Regarding his job, Tucker said that he is working for a friend in the private sector, and emphasized that he is not working in municipal government.
"I don't work for the City. I don't do anything for the City, in no capacity at all," Tucker said. "I'm just trying to get my life back together."
The legal problems of Tucker, one of the key insiders surrounding Mayor Baraka, intersected with others in the mayor's inner circle.
Tucker admitted in court that he intentionally underreported both the proceeds that he embezzled from the Centre as well as the income generated as part of his partnership in Elite Strategies, a political fundraising and consulting company, including funds that he split with his business partner.
Tucker was the business partner of Linda Jumah, the CEO of Elite Strategies.
Jumah pled guilty in November 2017 to federal tax evasion charges for underreporting a six-figure salary she earned in 2015 that resulted in a nearly $40,000 tax loss. She had also been ordered to pay more than $19,000 in restitution to the IRS in addition to a $20,000 penalty.
The false tax report was filed in 2015, the same year Jumah's political consulting firm organized Baraka's $1,000-per-plate Mayor's Ball. Records show her firm received at least $65,000 in consulting fees from Baraka’s campaign from July 2015 to April 2017.
Jumah currently works as a legislative aide for Assemblywoman Tucker.
Baraka married Jumah in March 2019 in a ceremony at the Newark Museum attended by members of the city's political elite, according to a councilman who attended the wedding and photos posted on social media. In July, a federal judge gave Jumah an additional year of probation after she admitted to violating the home confinement portion of her three-year sentence for filing a false income tax return.
While Tucker's legal troubles are coming to a close, he was not forthcoming about the nature of his current job.
"I don't want to go there. I'm not ashamed, but people are giving me an opportunity," Tucker said. "I don't believe that anybody is going to bother me. I just don't want it to be an issue where I work."
Tucker's future has yet to be determined. But he has determined that a potential part of his future will include the piece defined by family and friendship.
"Being involved with politics, that's probably going to be a part of my life forever, because that's where I come from. I would get involved because I love this city and I believe that the person that's in charge of this city is doing a hell of a job," Tucker said. "If there's ever anything there for me, then I'm there. And if not, that's fine too. In the end, the mayor is my best friend."
Before returning to what he needs to do to complete his post-prison re-entry into society, Tucker reiterated that he is sorry for what he has done. However, when asked what is the best way to show that he is sorry in the days to come, Tucker slightly skewed the tune of his redemption song.
"To be honest with you, I'm not trying to convince anybody. I'm taking responsibility for my actions," Tucker said. "I had to pay the consequences. It's behind me. I learned from it. And now I'm moving forward."