Former Newark Deputy Mayor Admits to Bribery Scheme with Local Businessmen

High-ranking Newark official pleads guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for assisting business owners with property acquisitions and redevelopment.

NEWARK, N.J.Carmelo G. Garcia, 49, a former Newark deputy mayor and director of the Newark Department of Economic and Housing Development (DEHD), admitted today to conspiring with two Newark businessmen to obtain bribes. Garcia, also an executive at the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation (NCEDC), confessed to receiving corrupt payments intended to influence his official actions, U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger announced.

As he admitted in court, Carmelo Garcia set up a scheme to receive cash and jewelry in exchange for using his influence in favor of private business interests, defrauding the people of Newark of their right to his honest services. In doing so, he violated the public trust in order to line his own pockets. Our office will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to make sure that the people of New Jersey are protected from public officials whose independent judgment is corrupted by greed,” said U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger.

Details of the Scheme

From 2017 to April 2019, Garcia sought and received significant monetary payments and other benefits from Frank Valvano Jr. and Irwin Sablosky in exchange for using his official positions to advance their real estate interests. These transactions included obtaining preliminary designation letters and securing redevelopment agreements (RDAs) for Valvano and Sablosky to purchase and acquire Newark-owned properties.

We entrust public officials to act in the best interest of the people they serve, not to abuse their position for their own personal gain,” FBI – Newark Special Agent in Charge James E. Dennehy said. “Today, Carmelo Garcia admitted he violated the citizens of Newark’s trust when as deputy mayor he accepted bribes to advance and influence private real estate interests. FBI Newark will continue to see that corrupt public officials face the punishment they deserve in the criminal justice system.”

Forms of Bribery

In addition to cash payments, Garcia received high-end jewelry from Valvano and Sablosky’s pawnbroker and jewelry business. Communications obtained by law enforcement, including phone records and text messages, revealed extensive coordination between Garcia and the businessmen. One notable instance in June 2018 involved Garcia receiving $25,000 in cash from Valvano via an intermediary at a New Jersey restaurant.

Carmelo Garcia abused his position of trust to oversee HUD grant money that was intended to provide housing assistance and improve the community in which he served,” Special Agent in Charge Vicky Vazquez, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, said. “He willfully devised an egregious kickback scheme resulting in the theft of critical taxpayer dollars, placing the integrity of HUD’s programs at risk, and violating the trust of the communities who rely on them. HUD OIG will continue to work with its prosecutorial and law enforcement partners to vigorously pursue those who seek to profit by abusing HUD-funded programs.”

Legal Proceedings and Sentencing

Garcia pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Madeline Cox Arleo to three counts: conspiracy to defraud Newark and the NCEDC of Garcia’s honest services, honest services wire fraud, and receiving bribes in connection with federally funded local government and organization business. Each of the first two counts carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison, while the bribery charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years. All charges also include fines of up to $250,000 or twice the amount of pecuniary gain. As part of his plea, Garcia agreed to forfeit the $25,000 cash bribe and jewelry obtained through the scheme. Sentencing is scheduled for December 12, 2024.

Investigation and Prosecution

The investigation was conducted by special agents of the FBI under the direction of Special Agent in Charge James E. Dennehy in Newark and special agents of Homeland Security Investigations Newark led by Acting Special Agent in Charge William S. Walker. Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce P. Keller, Special Counsel to the U.S. Attorney in Newark, is representing the government.

Valvano, 56, of Florham Park, and Sablosky, 64, of Springfield, are also charged in this case and their trial is pending before Judge Arleo. They are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

This case highlights the commitment of federal authorities to combat corruption and ensure integrity in public service.

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