For 10 months after the FBI raided the home of Atlantic City’s then-mayor Frank Gilliam, the public waited for the next shoe to drop.
Then on Oct. 3, all the Gilliam-related footwear seemed to fall at once. He pleaded guilty to wire fraud in federal court, the state attorney general sought his removal from office, and he resigned as mayor — all in the same day.
Now the public, whose trust he betrayed, awaits his sentencing on Jan. 7. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gain from his fraud. The sentence probably will be far lighter, but there will be other punishment.
Gilliam resigned quickly after Attorney General Gurbir Grewal served him, within hours of his guilty plea, with a forfeiture order under state law. But removing criminals from the office they hold is just the headline action of the strong New Jersey Forfeiture of Public Office statute. And Grewal’s office will ensure its provisions apply to all of Gilliam’s public positions now and in the future.
The Forfeiture of Public Office law has been applied to 56 public officials convicted in federal court since April 2013, according to New Jersey Law Journal.
Attorneys described the application of the law as inexorable for officials who have pleaded guilty to or been convicted of a crime, with challenges to it or even attempts to delay it almost unheard of.
Examples include a Toms River superintendent who took millions in bribes; a N.J. Turnpike Authority claims manager who help cheat the authority out of $1.5 million; a Newark employee who produced fraudulent birth certificates to sell; a Brick housing authority director who used city credit cards to buy gift cards for personal expenses; and a Paterson police officer who distributed narcotics and assaulted a hospital patient.
Gilliam spent $87,000 donated for an Atlantic City youth basketball program on himself instead, for travel and expensive clothing.
The forfeiture statute will remove Gilliam from all public positions, including any board seats or chairmanships he might hold. It also will bar him from future employment with the state and other public entities, and also from doing business as a contractor with the state in many cases. As the statute says, a convicted official “shall be forever disqualified from holding any office or position of honor, trust or profit in New Jersey and any of its administrative or political subdivisions.”
As the law journal put it, the idea behind the statute is that a convicted official shouldn’t have the honor of serving the public, nor be entitled to the benefits, salary and pension from public money that the office provides.
Of course, officials, law enforcers and the public need to pay attention and point out when someone subject to the forfeiture law is nevertheless given a government job. This past spring, after the administration of Gov. Phil Murphy was found to have hired a former Passaic councilman convicted of accepting bribes, Grewal looked around the state and found eight others hired in violation of the law. Among them were two former Pleasantville Board of Education members who pleaded guilty in a bribes-for-government-contracts scheme and subsequently got jobs with Atlantic County.
Gilliam’s case is so prominent that his allies in Atlantic City government wouldn’t dare try to throw him a city job someday.
We hope public officials consider the Forfeiture of Public Office statute a deterrent to criminal conduct while in office, if they need another one — especially in Atlantic City, where six corrupt mayors have been forced from office since the 1970s.