After sting, A.C. mayor's campaign to press ballot fraud allegations with prosecutor

Private detective Lou DiJoseph holding a recorder he is about to give to a campaign informant.

ATLANTIC CITY — The re-election campaign of Republican Mayor Don Guardian continued to press allegations of Democratic Party ballot fraud Wednesday and said it would present evidence at a meeting with the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office on Thursday.

The county Board of Elections, meanwhile, will meet Thursday evening to begin examining vote-by-mail and messenger ballots in advance of Tuesday’s election, the board office said.

“The actions and inactions that others and we have uncovered are of concern to the public and the integrity of the election process, since illegal votes dilute and debase the votes and rights of legal voters,” Guardian campaign attorney John M. Carbone wrote in a letter delivered Wednesday to Cary Shill, first assistant to Prosecutor Damon Tyner.

The letter was copied to Maureen Bugdon, the Atlantic County superintendent of elections, and Deputy Attorney General George Cohen.

The letter comes a day after the Inquirer reported that the Guardian campaign had hired two private detectives to investigate alleged ballot fraud. Guardian is facing a tight race against City Councilman Frank Gilliam, a Democrat.

The detectives put a recording device on an informant, Rodney Cotton, 51, who said he was paid $30 to obtain a messenger ballot and hand it to Craig Callaway, a Democratic operative in Atlantic City well-known for quarterbacking exhaustive vote-by-mail and messenger ballot operations.

The detectives have also interviewed two women who said they were paid $30 and were told to vote for Democrats.

Messengers are legally allowed in New Jersey to sign and collect up to three vote-by-mail ballots for voters, but must deliver the ballots directly to the voter. The ballots can be returned by anyone or by mail.

Wednesday, Callaway told radio host Harry Hurley that the messenger ballot in question was ultimately delivered to the voter. He dismissed allegations of impropriety.

“He gave me the messenger ballot for another voter,” Callaway said on the call-in show. “I in turn made sure that voter got the ballot. So no one was disenfranchised. Nice try, but they failed. I’m not doing anything wrong.”

He said any issue with messenger ballots was “technicalities.”

“People who come out to Mays Landing, it’s an arduous task,” he said. “People are paid for their time, for the hours going through their process. There’s nothing illegal about that.”

Callaway told Hurley his team has “mastered” the ballot law: “We are at an advantage. We know the law, We know the system. We understand the people of Atlantic City.”

Gilliam reiterated on the show that his campaign has not financed any ballot operation run by Callaway.

“We have a mayor who’s supposed to be a mayor of all the people putting together a sting operation,” Gilliam said. “It’s kind of juvenile, but at the same time it’s disturbing, because he’s willing to go that low to win an election. ”

In a statement, Guardian called on Gilliam to demand an investigation. “The good people of Atlantic City cannot be bought and we deserve better,” he said.

A spokesman for the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office did not respond to questions Wednesday, nor did a spokesman for the attorney general.

The Board of Elections advertised the ballot meeting on Friday and will also meet Monday.

More than 2,500 mail-in ballots have been issued to voters in Atlantic City, about 950 of them via messenger. In 2013, a total of 7,500 people cast votes for mayor.

Cotton, meanwhile, said Wednesday by text he was contemplating whether to respond further to criticism of his role by Our Atlantic City, a pro-Gilliam PAC. He has said he was motivated to help the Guardian campaign after hearing people in the homeless community talk about being offered $30 to vote or to be messengers. He said he has had no contact with the voter whose ballot he was asked to sign for.