Atlantic City Councilman George Tibbitt noticed a change in his friend Frank Gilliam shortly after last spring’s mayoral primary.
Tibbitt and Gilliam, who is now the mayor of Atlantic City, had always been close. When the two were on the city council, they were a picture of camaraderie. When Gilliam announced his run for mayor, Tibbitt was at his side and on his slate, marching through the drizzle and knocking on doors as Gilliam captured the scene for a Facebook video.
As the campaign wore on, Tibbitt began to have his doubts about Gilliam. Doubts that Gilliam was really for “the forgotten people,” the citizens of Atlantic City, and maybe all in for himself.
Those suspicions were confirmed over the last two months, as investigators from the FBI and county prosecutor’s office interviewed Tibbitt about checks made out to his city council campaign that Gilliam allegedly stole, signed, and deposited last year. The investigators made it clear Tibbitt was a victim in the case, he said.
“It feels like an absolute betrayal, and it’s very devastating someone you put trust in could do this,” Tibbitt said this morning.
Tibbitt was wary of giving details of the interviews, saying he did not want to interfere with the investigations. He confirmed he met with the FBI in early February, then the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office earlier this month. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined comment, and a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office could not be reached for comment.
“I never gave anybody permission to put my checks in their account,” Tibbitt said.
Tibbitt’s interviews, and the picture of a widening investigation into lawbreaking by Mayor Gilliam laid out by radio host Harry Hurley this morning, only raise the jeopardy Gilliam finds himself in barely three months into his first term.
The city Democratic committee has signed theft charges against the mayor after a $10,000 check from the county committee wound up in Gilliam’s account last October. And multiple donors told InsiderNJ about a late September fundraiser for Gilliam where a pile of cash apparently disappeared. None of the donations, which included checks, from the fundraiser at the Mr. Steak sandwich shop were reported on Gilliam’s campaign finance reports.
In comments for the InsiderNJ story, Gilliam said he believed he already was under investigation by the FBI and expected to be interviewed soon. The mayor called those making an accusations against him a “lynch mob” of greedy job-seekers and money-grabbers. Gilliam said the county Democrats check was rerouted by accident, and that his campaign did not accept cash donations.
Gilliam and his chief of staff could not immediately be reached for comment today.
County Democrats have questioned Gilliam’s explanation for the misdirected $10,000 check, saying there are text messages from Gilliam’s campaign manager which show the two were aware that money was on its way to the city committee. Gilliam has said the texts were discussing a different check, and any money that was on the table at Mr. Steak would be virtually impossible to track down. With Tibbitt’s case, however, there could be solid proof if investigators are able to subpoena bank records.
“I know where it’s going,” Tibbitt said. “On towards guilty. The checks are in the account. What are my checks doing in his account?”
Tibbitt said he would fully cooperate with investigators. He did not call on Gilliam to resign, and said the mayor would get his opportunity to answer the allegations in court or with law enforcement.
The relationship between Gilliam and Tibbitt frayed during the campaign, Tibbitt said, and was not repaired by Gilliam’s victory over incumbent Republican Mayor Don Guardian. Gilliam has few staunch backers left, and Tibbitt said the community has turned against the mayor.
“Walked away from a winner,” Tibbitt said. “When’s the last time that happened?”