The plan was to take down a political traitor.
Instead, a videotape capturing Atlantic City Councilman Eugene Robinson in a sexual tryst set up by his rivals exploded into a scandal that landed the planners in jail and cast lingering shadows on other characters in the real-life drama.
Three men were convicted last week in the scheme masterminded by former political powerhouse Craig Callaway as payback for a former ally's change of allegiance. Callaway's brothers, Ronald and David, and friend Floyd Tally will be sentenced Dec. 10.
Craig Callaway admitted his role Nov. 21 and received a three-year sentence that was to run concurrent with a 40-month term he received after pleading guilty Aug. 30, 2006, to a federal bribery charge.
Callaway told Robinson of that plea the night before, according to Robinson's testimony.
Robinson cried when he heard the news, then made a silent decision to separate from the group, he said. His choice did not stay quiet. During a prayer meeting days later, he gave a public apology to Callaway rival Lorenzo Langford.
The move did not sit well with Callaway, setting into motion a plan for revenge.
A prostitute would be hired to seduce Robinson, with a camera capturing the encounter that also would suggest the part-time minister was paying for the service. A threat would be made to go public if Robinson did not resign. But when shown a clip of the tape and told he had "75 minutes" to step down, Robinson refused.
The plan may not have worked, but there was payback.
For Robinson, it was "an embarrassment more public than you can imagine," Chief Assistant Prosecutor James McClain told a jury last week.
Now in failing health, he had to leave his bed at a Pleasantville nursing home to testify at the trial, accompanied by a nurse, an aide and two emergency medical technicians. Before a jury and a live Internet feed from the courtroom, he replayed the night of Nov. 13, 2006, when a woman asked him for a ride, and wound up performing oral sex on him in a motel room.
The details of the story did not quite match those of the woman hired to seduce him, Kristyn Haino.
Robinson said he at first refused the ride; Haino said he was all for it. Robinson claimed there was no flirting on the way to the motel; Haino said there was.
The humiliation had Robinson "trying to remember things as sympathetically to himself as he can," McClain suggested.
For Haino, it was a trip back to her past.
She was financing her "all day, every day" heroin and crack addiction through prostitution. But the fresh-faced 27-year-old who took the stand showed no signs of that.
"She testified knowing that the darkest, most shameful secrets of her life would be revealed and reported," McClain said.
A faith-based drug-treatment program helped her get clean, she said. She will celebrate two years of sobriety next month.
Ironically, she may have the best future of all.
The fifth defendant, Councilman John Schultz, is not seeking re-election.
He was entered into a pretrial intervention program that dropped him from the case but stresses again and again that he never pleaded guilty. He would have fought for acquittal at trial if he had not received PTI, Schultz insists.
That decision also cast a shadow over Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel, who defied a strongly worded recommendation from the Attorney General's Office that Schultz should not be allowed diversion.
"Your office has a responsibility to vigorously oppose" admission into the program, First Assistant Attorney General Ricardo Solano Jr. wrote. "Mr. Schultz's conduct constituted a clear breach of the public trust and, for that reason alone, his application should be denied."
Throughout their trial, the three remaining defendants accused Housel of racism in that move: They are black, Schultz is white. Housel has vigorously denied race was a factor.
What happens to the players next is a question. But Callaway's plan to retain power took three more loyalists off the street. And the legal problems for two of them continue: David Callaway and Tally are set to be arraigned next week on voter-fraud charges.
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