It was all for the people of Atlantic City, said former city council president Craig Callaway. Since he was saying this at a sentencing hearing after being convicted of taking bribes from an FBI informant, it is possible that he was exaggerating his altruistic motives a bit.
Callaway, who was elected to the council in 2002 and ascended to the presidency the next year, was described as the head of a “political crew” that sought to maintain power in part by intimidating its opponents. More specifically, he was described as a “man who routinely showed up at opponents’ political events with a bullhorn to drown them out, and who once threw a brick through an opposing candidate’s windshield.” He seemed to have the same kind of attitude on Tuesday as he was arriving at the courthouse, which he did “with his middle finger raised” as his supporters were “cursing, pushing and shoving reporters.”
He had put that finger away, though, by the time he got before the judge, unless he used it to get out his handkerchief. Callaway reportedly “blinked back tears” and “choked up” as he asked the judge to go easy on him. “I stand before you today,” he told Judge Joseph Rodriguez, “extremely remorseful, with a heavy heart.” It wasn’t that clear what he was extremely remorseful about, though, because he said he had only taken the $36,000 in bribes in order to help his constituents, or that’s what he implied, anyway: “The reason why I had a good relationship with the informant is because Mr. Jacobs was doing the right thing for the people of Atlantic City,” he said. “He hired local people, he empowered them economically.” (And part of a good relationship is accepting money that your partner wants to give you in exchange for favors. It’s just rude not to.) “I just wanted to help the people,” he continued. “They are the real victims.”
As CNN put it, “Callaway did not explain how pocketing $36,000 in bribes helped the people he represented.” Nor did his attorney, who nonetheless was able to build on his client’s statements to make what might now be the leading candidate for legal argument of the year (although it’s still early). At least, he told the judge, his client had not tried to disguise the bribes as campaign contributions, and so should get some credit for not being disingenuous. That honesty is noble indeed, plus he is remorseful, with a heavy heart.
On the other hand, Judge Rodriguez pointed out, this story of redemption and reform is a little inconsistent with the fact that, while out on bail awaiting sentencing, Callaway had tried to blackmail another councilman after setting him up to be filmed with a prostitute. At least he did not try to hide the camera, his attorney might have said to that. He should get some credit for being open about the blackmail.
Unimpressed, Judge Rodriguez sentenced Callaway to 40 months in prison, fined him $1000 and, in a blow to the good government that Atlantic City has obviously been enjoying, barred Callaway from ever again holding public office.