MAYS LANDING, N.J. – Clandestine meetings in a dark sport utility vehicle hidden near the Boardwalk. A secret pow-wow in a diner. A computer hard drive tossed into the ocean. A secret sex videotape and blackmail.
It sounded like a TV crime drama. But Friday's testimony in state Superior Court featured the FBI's description of real-life corruption in Atlantic City.
Craig Callaway, a former Atlantic City Council president already serving a 40-month federal prison term for bribery, is trying to have statements he made to two FBI agents thrown out in his trial on charges that he, two brothers and several others conspired to blackmail Councilman Eugene Robinson in attempt to force him to resign.
On Friday, an FBI agent recounted three conversations in which Callaway discussed the secret videotaping of Robinson in a sexual encounter with a prostitute in a motel room. Robinson, a Baptist minister, has said that the sex was consensual and that money he gave the woman was to buy sodas.
FBI Special Agent James Eckel testified about three clandestine meetings he had with Callaway in 2006 and 2007. Each time, agents picked up Callaway and dropped him off about a block from his house so he wouldn't be seen talking to them. Twice, they parked on New Jersey Avenue where it dead-ended at the Boardwalk; once they spoke in a diner, where they asked the owner for a private table.
On Dec. 18, 2006, Eckel and his partner, Special Agent Edward Corrigan, spoke with Callaway in their unmarked sport utility vehicle parked out of sight near the Boardwalk. Eckel said he asked Callaway if he knew who had secretly taped a sexual encounter between a prostitute and Robinson, then leaked the tape to the media.
"Craig's exact words were, `Other than us, I have no idea,"' Eckel testified. "He said, `We all know I know what happened to Gene."'
But after the hearing was adjourned without a decision, Callaway's lawyer, Joseph Grassi, said those comments were not an admission of guilt, and actually came in response to a different question from the FBI agents.
"He was asked who would have a motive to do this," Grassi said.
On Dec. 19, 2006, the agents picked up Callaway and drove him to a diner in neighboring Egg Harbor Township. Soon after ordering breakfast, the agents told Callaway that what happened to Robinson was a federal crime.
"He (Callaway) said he always seems to get stabbed in the back," Eckel said of Callaway. "He said he was upset with Gene Robinson. Gene Robinson had switched allegiance from himself to Lorenzo Langford."
Langford, a former mayor and political rival, won the Democratic mayoral primary earlier this month and is widely expected to be elected in the November general election in this overwhelmingly Democratic city where Republicans are outnumbered 11-1.
"He felt he was responsible for Mr. Robinson getting his seat on council, and Mr. Robinson was not grateful for that," Eckel testified.
The agent also testified in detail about the plot to lure Robinson to the Bayview Motel in neighboring Absecon. Callaway, his brothers David and Ronald, and a friend, Floyd Tally, approached the motel owner and said they wanted to rent adjacent rooms so they could secretly videotape someone, the agent said. The Callaways, Tally and City Councilman John Schultz are all charged in the case.
They got rooms 101 and 102, and Tally placed a camera hidden in a clock radio inside one of the rooms, Eckel said. The camera sent a video stream to a recorder in the adjacent room, he said.
The agent said the Callaways paid a woman, whom he did not identify, between $150 and $200 to lure Robinson to the motel and perform a sex act on him.
Craig Callaway edited the video on his home computer, then yanked out the hard drive and threw it into the ocean, the agent said. Schultz arranged for a computer expert to help edit the video and blur the woman's face, Eckel testified.
Robinson refused the Callaways' demand that he resign.
All the defendants charged in the case have pleaded innocent and maintain they had nothing to do with the taping.
The case is scheduled to resume in court on June 30.