N.J. Mayor re­signs af­ter steal­ing $87K from non­profit

Lodi News-Sentinel - - NATION - By Amy S. Rosen­berg and Jeremy Roe­buck

CAM­DEN, N.J. — At­lantic City Mayor Frank M. Gil­liam Jr. re­signed from of­fice late Thurs­day af­ter ad­mit­ting to em­bez­zling more than $87,000 meant to buy school sup­plies and fund ac­tiv­i­ties for a youth bas­ket­ball club he co-founded, be­com­ing the lat­est in a long string of the city’s elected lead­ers to face pos­si­ble prison time.

Even as Gil­liam, 49, was rais­ing funds for the At­lantic City Starz, an or­ga­ni­za­tion he has touted both in his cam­paigns and his of­fi­cial bi­og­ra­phy, he was spend­ing donors’ money on lux­ury cloth­ing, ex­pen­sive meals and trips that had noth­ing to do with the un­der­priv­i­leged chil­dren the or­ga­ni­za­tion was sup­posed to serve, pros­e­cu­tors said.

“It is with a heavy heart that I ten­der my res­ig­na­tion as Mayor of the City of At­lantic City, ef­fec­tive im­me­di­ately,” Gil­liam wrote in a let­ter time-stamped by City Clerk Paula Galetei at 4:39 p.m., min­utes af­ter a po­lice of­fi­cer had locked up City Hall for the day.

“I would like to apol­o­gize to the res­i­dents of the Great City of At­lantic City who de­serve sta­bil­ity and re­spect.”

Gil­liam left his house, pass­port in hand, shortly af­ter 7 a.m. and took that well-worn route from At­lantic City to Cam­den, where he pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in a hear­ing be­fore U.S. Dis­trict Judge Joseph Ro­driguez.

He now faces a po­ten­tial prison sen­tence of up to 20 years. The judge in­formed him that his plea could also mean he would no longer be able to hold pub­lic of­fice. Pros­e­cu­tors said more than $41,000 in cash seized in an FBI raid of his home would go to­ward resti­tu­tion.

Gil­liam did not re­sign un­til hours af­ter his guilty plea and calls from the state’s top of­fi­cials for him to step down. New Jer­sey At­tor­ney Gen­eral Gur­bir S. Gre­wal filed an Or­der to Show Cause in Su­pe­rior Court in Mercer County seek­ing to re­move Gil­liam from of­fice un­der the state’s for­fei­ture of pub­lic of­fice statute.

“The res­i­dents of At­lantic City de­serve im­me­di­ate ac­tion to re­move Mayor Gil­liam, who demon­strated by his crim­i­nal con­duct that he is not fit for of­fice,” Gre­wal said.

New Jer­sey Gov. Philip Mur­phy called the charge to which Gil­liam pleaded “de­spi­ca­ble” and said he “must re­sign” to make way for a mayor who would fo­cus on the “bet­ter­ment of At­lantic City and not them­selves.”

“He has squan­dered the trust and con­fi­dence of his com­mu­nity and of his ad­min­is­tra­tion to lead that com­mu­nity,” Mur­phy said mid-af­ter­noon, even as a spokesper­son for Gil­liam was at the door of Gil­liam’s sev­en­th­floor of­fice say­ing he was still the mayor.

“When a scheme de­pletes char­ity for chil­dren, it’s un­con­scionable,” said Gre­gory W. Ehrie, spe­cial agent in charge of the FBI’s Ne­wark of­fice, in a state­ment. “But when the fraud is per­pe­trated by some­one the pub­lic trusts, it dam­ages the com­mu­nity’s con­fi­dence in their pub­lic ser­vants. This de­fen­dant be­trayed the trust of his com­mu­nity and of peo­ple of peo­ple who wanted to im­prove the lives of chil­dren.”

Gil­liam is a former city coun­cil­man elected to lead the cash­strapped casino town in 2017.

In court, Gil­liam showed no emo­tion, re­spond­ing suc­cinctly to the judge’s ques­tions while his wife, Shawna, sat alone in the front row. She had ac­com­pa­nied Gil­liam there from their At­lantic City home.

He was re­leased hours later on a $100,000 un­se­cured bond pend­ing his Jan. 7 sen­tenc­ing hear­ing.

As part of his guilty plea, Gil­liam agreed to re­pay the money he stole from the bas­ket­ball non­profit be­tween 2013 and 2018 — in part with more than $41,000 in cash that FBI agents seized from his home last year. Gil­liam founded the char­ity along with former At­lantic City bas­ket­ball alum­nus, Keith Fader, of Mar­gate, in 2011.

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