MAYS LANDING — Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian claimed Friday the city’s mayoral race was being hijacked by a plan to pay homeless people for votes and intimidate others into voting for his Democratic opponents.

Standing in front of the Atlantic County Clerk’s office, which he said had been overrun with fraudulent requests, Guardian blamed former Atlantic City Councilman Craig Callaway, who he claims is paying for messengers to obtain ballots that are then filled out for Democrats. Other residents have been threatened, Guardian said.

Callaway, who exited the Clerk’s Office and walked over to the County Board of Elections shortly before the press conference, insisted he was following the law for getting residents to serve as messengers.

“This is nothing but the biggest sideshow distraction in the history of Atlantic County,” Callaway said. “The only difference is that Guardian is of the mind that I’m not supporting him in 2017, as I did in 2013.”

Guardian’s Democratic opponent, Frank Gilliam, called the claims a “desperate ploy.”

Guardian said the number of fraudulent ballots casts is about 2,000, which he says represents the number of votes cast either by dead people or people who are not residents.

As proof, he offered names of several residents who had spoken to his private investigators, including one man, Rodney Cotton, who said Callaway paid him $30 to obtain three messenger ballots. Cotton taped the meeting with Callaway, and a copy was provided to the media after the press conference.

Guardian called on authorities to investigate. Both the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office and the state Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on the claims.

“It’s beyond despicable that they are preying on mostly homeless and senior citizens in the city. These poor people need the money, and they are approached in a way that makes them think that nothing is wrong with the direct transaction.” Guardian said. “It’s deception of the worst kind, and it needs to stop. All we are asking for is a fair and just election. Stop the dead people from voting.”

Registered voters can designate messengers to deliver their ballots. A messenger can deliver vote-by-mail applications for as many as three people. The ballots are sealed when given to the messenger, who then should deliver them to the voter.

After the conference, Guardian handed out packets of statements and audio recordings as part of a 16-page report prepared by DiJoseph Investigations LLC, alleging fraud on behalf of the Frank Gilliam for Mayor Campaign.

“He has created another Mother Goose story, as he realizes this mayorship is slipping through his fingers,” Gilliam said. “It’s an embarrassment for an elected official to do a sting with non-law-enforcement officers.”

Gilliam said the Callaways do not work for his campaign.

Atlantic City resident Cheryl Reid, who is mentioned in the report, said Friday night she was approached on two different occasions and offered money for her vote.

“I’ve seen them at Altman Terrace, Jeffries Towers and Shore Park,” said Reid, a 63-year-old employee of the Atlantic City Housing Authority, who said she declined the offers. “They pretty much got the whole building.”

As part of the investigation, Cotton recorded his interaction with Callaway. During the three-hour recording, Callaway can be heard detailing the payment Cotton would receive if he cooperated. Cotton said Friday he was directly paid by Callaway.

“I’m here to represent the homeless in Atlantic City who are being taken advantage of,” Cotton said during the press conference. “It is not right to give those brothers and sisters money for a vote that should come from the heart.”

During a county Board of Elections meeting Thursday night, Guardian’s attorney John Carbone questioned the meeting’s validity under the Open Public Meetings Act. He alleged there wasn’t proper announcement or notice of the meeting. Guardian repeated that claim Friday.

Guardian denied Callaway played a role in his 2013 victory.

“No sour grapes, I never spoke, communicated, neither did any councilman that was with me in 2013,” Guardian said of Callaway’s role in that year’s election. “We had at least 50 meetings with volunteers. Craig was never in any of those meetings. Last election I was told that Craig was supporting the increase in the minimum wage and he was going out and registering people to vote to increase the wage.”

Besides calling on authorities, Guardian said his campaign has set up a hotline to report fraud. The hotline, 609-225-4979, went to a voicemail recording for the “Atlantic City Voter Fraud Hotline.”

Contact: 609-272-7046 Twitter @acpresshuba

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