Kiburi Tucker, a longtime friend of Mayor Ras Baraka and the business partner of a Newark woman who admitted to tax evasion earlier this month, plead guilty today in federal court to charges of tax evasion and wire fraud.
Appearing before U.S. District Court Judge Jose L. Linares, Tucker pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of tax evasion out of a total of five counts filed against him as part of an August 14 plea agreement, according to court documents.
The maximum penalty for the wire fraud count is 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.
The maximum penalty for the tax evasion count is five years in prison, a maximum fine of $250,000, or twice the financial gain or loss of the victims of Tucker's activities, as well as the cost of prosecution.
Tucker, sharply dressed in a periwinkle blue suit, matching red and blue paisley print pocket square, and highly-shined shoes, stood in the courtroom and made a statement before being processed by federal authorities.
"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. "They depended on me, and they supported me. And I let them down."
"I will try to rectify what I have done to the best of my ability," Tucker added. "I accept the consequences, and I take full responsibility for my actions."
Tucker, 43, admitted in court that during a period from January 2012 to December 2015, he engaged in numerous acts of wire fraud in his capacity as the executive director of The Centre Inc., a non-profit child care 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" falsely for the benefit of the child care center. Instead, Tucker used the card to pay for personal expenses. These expenses included more than $165,000 for costs generated from travel to several states, including Hawaii and Nevada, as well as gambling expenses.
Tucker also admitted to using an additional $95,000 of the child care center's funds for personal expenses, including for costs generated by personal travel and for gambling.
Tucker's additional admissions included using funds supposed to be used for the benefit of the child care center for $527 in personal home furnishing and art, as well as for a personal cash advance at a casino in Atlantic City.
In total, Tucker defrauded The Centre of more than $332,000 from 2012 through 2015, according to court documents.
Regarding the tax evasion count, Tucker admitted in court that while an employee of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC), a job that paid him more than $90,000 per year, he underreported 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 also admitted in court that he underreported $177,000 on his 2016 tax return. He also confirmed that he owes $56,000 more than what was underreported on his tax form.
The courtroom at the Federal Courthouse on Walnut Street in downtown Newark was empty except for the legal counsel for the defense and the prosecution, as well as three criminal investigators from three federal government agencies: the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher in Newark; IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jonathan D. Larsen; and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Christina Scaringi, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.
Tucker is being represented by attorney Timothy M. Donohue of the West Orange-based firm of Arleo & Donohue, as well as co-counsel Alfred C. DeCotiis, a name partner in the prominent Teaneck-based law firm of DeCotiis, FitzPatrick, Cole & Giblin.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jacques S. Pierre and Jihee G. Suh of the Special Prosecutions Division.
Tucker resigned from his position at the PVSC effective earlier this month, according to an official from the commission.
Michael Pulver, the PVSC's director of human resources and organizational development, confirmed in an interview with TAPinto Newark on November 13 that Tucker resigned his position as the commission's senior external relations representative effective on Friday, November 10.
Pulver further stated that it is the commission's official policy not to speak about personnel records and that these records should be obtained through the submission of an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request.
Tucker pleaded guilty to federal charges today only 10 days after his resignation became effective.
Tucker is the business partner of Linda Jumah, the CEO of Elite Strategies.
Jumah, 35, admitted in federal court on November 6 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. Jumah was released on $75,000 unsecured bond. The tax evasion charge carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 14, 2018.
Elite Strategies organized the Mayor's Ball, an annual $1,000-a-seat gala fundraiser held last year at Mr. Adams Steakhouse. Elite Strategies has also sent out an email blast for Team Baraka and has issued statements on behalf of the mayor, such as a April 2016 announcement of a deal between the city and UBER.
The firm received at least $65,000 in consulting fees from Mayor Ras Baraka's campaign committee, according to reports filed with the Election Law Enforcement Commission.
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.
Jumah has been suspended without pay from her $75,000-a-year job in Jersey City, according to Jersey City officials. Hudson County View reported that Jumah will have an employee hearing to decide if she is terminated, which is standard procedure.
Tucker's guilty plea is the latest development to ensnare people with ties to the Baraka administration. Last month, the U.S. Attorney's office announced the arrest of Victor Santos, a real estate investor who is building Newark's new Department of Public Works garage.
Santos was arrested along with three others on federal charges of using “straw buyers” to fraudulently obtain mortgage loans from a bank in 2007 and 2008.
Tucker was released pending his sentencing, scheduled for February 27, 2018.