NEWARK - A city councilman has pleaded guilty to taking tens of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks. And he's sticking around.

Joseph McCallum Jr. admitted to netting $31,500 total from bribes, kickbacks, and cash for travel expenses. The 66-year-old West Ward councilman unsuccessfully tried to get thousands more.

Along with money taken under the table, McCallum also pleaded guilty to one count of subscribing to a false personal tax return in 2018.

In addition to his role as councilman, McCallum served as chairman of the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation, now called Invest Newark! after changing its name in 2019.

U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger announced the guilty plea Tuesday. Authorities said McCallum orchestrated the bribery plot from 2017 through Feb. 2020 using both of his powerful positions.

The councilman's co-conspirator Malik Frederick took the illicit funds from developers and contractors through his consulting company. Prosecutors said once they had paid Frederick's fees for "access," the developers and contractors could meet McCallum.

McCallum and Frederick worked together to block developers and contractors from working with NCEDC and the city itself if they did not pony up.

In one scheme, McCallum took in $16,000 from a contractor. Another saw him collect $25,000 from a developer's company.

McCallum also collected $500 in travel expenses for a trip out of the country. The purpose of the long journey was an attempt to take a portion of a $50,000 payment from another developer.

Prosecutors first announced charges against the councilman in Oct. 2020. Days later, Mayor Ras Baraka called on McCallum to resign.

Even after the guilty plea, McCallum has made no indication he would step down as of late Tuesday. Instead, WYNC reports the councilman intends to finish his term ending in June.

In all, McCallum faces a maximum prison sentence of up to 23 years in prison and $500,000 in fines. His sentencing is set for July.

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