In Brief

Ex-Atlantic City council president charged in voter fraud scheme

By: - February 1, 2024 3:12 pm

Atlantic City powerbroker Craig Callaway is accused of paying others to illegally obtain mail ballots cast without voters' knowledge. (Courtesy of the Press of Atlantic City)

Federal authorities arrested former Atlantic City council president and Democratic operative Craig Callaway Thursday, alleging he masterminded a mail-ballot fraud scheme in the runup to the 2022 election.

U.S. Attorneys accused Callaway and other unnamed subordinates of paying Atlantic City residents between $30 and $50 to act as authorized messengers and request mail-in ballots for voters whom they had never met. Prosecutors allege that those ballots were later cast without the actual voters’ knowledge.

The charges appear to stem from work Callaway did for Rep. Jeff Van Drew’s 2022 reelection campaign. There’s no indication Van Drew (R-02) knew about the alleged scheme.

“Holding free and fair elections is a bedrock principle of our democracy,” U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger said in a statement. “As alleged in the complaint, the defendant attempted to deprive New Jersey residents of a fair election by fraudulently procuring and casting ballots. Today’s charges reflect our office’s commitment to hold to account those who try to undermine the electoral process.”

Prosecutors did not seek to detain Callaway before trial, though he must provide a $50,000 appearance bond, forgo international travel, and avoid contact with others involved in the case as conditions of his release.

Megan Davies, Callaway’s attorney, declined to provide immediate comment. Both parties agreed to a continuance order that would delay further proceedings until March 29.

Van Drew’s 2022 campaign paid GOYV LLC, Callaway’s consulting firm, $65,500 for strategic consulting, including $25,000 in early October, when prosecutors allege the scheme began.

The congressman’s campaign denied any knowledge of the alleged scheme, adding Callaway had signed an agreement meant to prevent the sort of conduct he faces charges over.

“We never have and never would condone any illegal activity,” the campaign said in a statement. “In fact, as is always the case with our vendors, the campaign had a signed consulting contract. Mr. Callaway signed the contract for that election, and previous elections, specifically stating that as an independent contractor he ‘agrees all work and services provided shall adhere to all federal, state, and local laws and regulations.’”

Callaway faces up to five years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release if convicted on the single charge of procuring, casting, and tabulating fraudulent ballots he faces.

The charges are not the first Callaway has faced. In 2006, he admitted accepting $36,000 in bribes from a contractor he helped to obtain city contracts. In 2008, he admitted guilt in a separate blackmail scheme targeting an Atlantic City councilman while serving the sentence of his bribery conviction.

In 2017, Assemblyman Don Guardian, then the city’s mayor, accused Callaway of a similar ballot harvesting scheme to boost Frank Gilliam, who won the election but resigned in late 2019 after pleading guilty to wire fraud over the theft of $86,000 from a youth basketball team he ran.

“It’s no secret that candidates from both parties have hired Callaway in the past to help them win elections. Those who hired him cannot plead ignorance now. Everyone in Atlantic County knows exactly what Callaway’s operation is and the blatant illegality of it all,” said Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Michael Suleiman.

Suleiman added he would lobby the Legislature’s leaders and the governor’s office to pass legislation banning payments to ballot bearers and messengers, which are not illegal in New Jersey.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.

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