Assemblywoman's son will spend 3 years behind bars

Kiburi Tucker leaves the courthouse with his family after being sentenced for tax evasion and wire fraud at the Federal Courthouse in Newark on April 18, 2018. 

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The son of a state Assemblywoman and a close friend of Newark Mayor Ras Baraka was sentenced to more than three years in prison Wednesday for cheating the government of taxes and defrauding a now-defunct nonprofit.

Kiburi Tucker, of Newark, pleaded guilty to tax evasion and wire fraud charges in November, admitting he embezzled $332,116 from The Centre, Inc., a nonprofit started by his late father -- a hailed civil rights leader and longtime Newark City Council member. 

Tucker, 43, also underreported his income, including money he earned from his political consulting firm, Elite Strategies LLC, that provided services to Newark, the city's redevelopment agency, and Baraka's campaign. 

With his mother, Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker (D-28th Dist.), his wife, and more than a dozen other supporters in the courtroom, Tucker stood before U.S. District Judge Jose Linares, expressing remorse for his actions. 

"I'm extremely embarrassed and ashamed of what I've done," Tucker said. "I'm so sorry."

Tucker will surrender on May 30. 

"I want to make amends, I plan to make that my mission," Tucker said. He declined to comment further after his sentencing saying only, "(I) just want to spend time with my family." 

Timothy Donohue, Tucker's attorney, said the 38-month-sentence was disappointing. Donohue argued before Judge Linares that Tucker should receive the minimum 33-month sentence as he "is fully committed to mitigating the harm that he's caused."

"What he has done is an extraordinary acceptance of responsibility," Donohue said, adding that Tucker struggled with a gambling and alcohol addiction which led him to make "impulsive choices."

The U.S. Attorney's Office, represented in court by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacques S. Pierre, said Tucker used the embezzled funds not just for gambling but to pay for his "lavish lifestyle" that included trips to Hawaii, Puerto Rico and a $2,000 entertainment system for his penthouse apartment. 

Those dollars were a mixture of state and city funds as well as tuition money that low-income families paid to The Centre, Inc. for child-care services.

"The fact that this organization was in financial chaos begs the question, what were the conditions of this organization?" Pierre said. "People entrusted their children to The Centre."

A son of Newark

Deeply rooted in the city where he was raised, Tucker is the son of Assemblywoman Tucker, and his late father, Donald Kofi Tucker, served on the state Assembly and on the Newark City Council until he died in 2005.

Assemblywoman Tucker declined to comment after the sentencing Wednesday.

Federal prosecutors said Tucker, who was the executive director of The Centre, Inc., defrauded the nonprofit of $332,116 between 2012 and 2015. The money was used to fund gambling, travel and to furnish his home. The Centre, which opened in 1989, is now closed.

Tucker also worked at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission since 1994 as a senior external relations representative earning $113,082. He resigned on Nov. 10. 

Weeks prior to Wednesday's sentencing, Baraka, a Democrat, told NJ Advance Media Tucker was a close friend and that he has known the family for decades. 

"Kiburi just got married, just had a child. I'm friends with his wife, I'm close to his mother, everybody. It obviously has an impact on me as if it were my own brother," Baraka said recently. "My father married Kiburi's mother and father." 

Tucker has a 1-year-old child at home, his attorney said. 

Baraka said Tucker's actions were his own and unrelated to the city, despite Elite Strategies' work for the administration. 

"It's their own money, it's their own business, they are going to pay for the things that they made mistakes for," Baraka previously said. "It had nothing to do with the functioning of the city, the management of the city, it has nothing to do with the functioning of the campaign, the management of the campaign."

The city said it paid Elite Strategies, LLC $26,500 for marketing services provided between 2014-15. Tucker's consulting partner, Linda Jumah, was sentenced to three years probation in March for also underreporting her income. 

Baraka said despite his relationship with Tucker and Jumah, the two followed the city's bidding procedures and had "every right to bid."

The Newark Community Economic Development Corporation hired Elite Strategies in 2014 for $111,500, according to a contract. Campaign finance records show the Committee to Re-Elect Ras Baraka paid Elite Strategies $95,000 between April 2015 and April 2017 for consulting services and coordinating a fundraiser. 

Tucker was also developing a $10 million mixed-use apartment complex in the South Ward, named Tucker View apartments. Baraka said the 42-unit building is still moving forward, but Tucker has removed himself from the project.

"It's going to move forward, we don't want the project to be hurt, he wasn't the only person doing the project," Baraka said. 

It's not the first time Tucker will sit behind bars. He previously served four years in prison for his involvement in a drive-by shooting. He was released in 2001. 

Donohue, Tucker's attorney, argued those charges were 20 years old.

"This is a great person, with great abilities to offer his community," Donohue said. "He fell short of the mark."

Donohue said Tucker was in an intensive counseling program three times a week for his drinking problem and had put himself on the gamblng exclusion list in Atlantic City. 

Tucker will have to pay the IRS $133,000, of which he has already paid $20,000. He will also have to forfeit $332,116. 

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