Former Newark Official, 2 City Businessmen Indicted in Bribery Scheme

The payments were in exchange for Garcia’s use of his official positions and influence to advance real estate development matters of interest to Valvano and Sablosky, according to authorities. 

This included securing Newark-approved redevelopment agreements (RDAs) to purchase and acquire various Newark-owned properties for redevelopment, and to ensure that Garcia did not use his influence and authority to act against their interests, authorities said. 

Garcia also received jewelry, including multiple high-end watches and chains, from the co-conspirator's pawnbroker and jewelry business, including a Rolex watch with a “Selling Price” of $8,900; a Cartier watch with a “Selling Price” of $3,295; an Omega watch with a “Selling Price” of $7,295; and a chain with a “Selling Price” of $9,345, authorities said. 

Phone records and text messages obtained by law enforcement showed extensive communications between Garcia, Valvano, Sablosky, and others throughout this period of time, including text messages in which the Newark officials arranged to personally collect cash provided by Valvano and Sablosky, authorities said. 

In one instance in June 2018, Garcia, who was then the city’s acting deputy mayor and director of the city’s Department of Economic and Housing Development, received an envelope containing $25,000 in cash, supplied by Valvano through an intermediary, in the restroom of a New Jersey restaurant, according to authorities. Text messages obtained by law enforcement show that Garcia used his personal cellphone to coordinate the location and timing of the meeting, authorities said. 

In other text messages, Valvano and Sablosky discussed additional payments of money and jewelry the two had made to Garcia, and also to an associate of Garcia as well as their ongoing efforts to obtain RDAs with the city to acquire and redevelop Newark-owned properties, authorities said. 

E-mails obtained by law enforcement showed the official actions, assistance, and influence Garcia provided in violation of his duties in exchange for the cash and other non-cash benefits he received from the co-conspirators, according to authorities. The e-mails also showed the actions that Valvano and Sablosky were seeking from Garcia for those benefits, authorities said. 

The defendants even took steps to conceal their corrupt and fraudulent arrangement, according to authorities. In one instance, they used "coded language" in their electronic communications to refer to the cash payments that Garcia accepted and agreed to accept, referring to the payments, for instance, as “docs” and “butter," authorities said. 

Additionally, Valvano informally kept track of the money and jewelry that Garcia received from himself and Sablosky in the form of handwritten notes drafted in a manner intended to obscure Garcia’s identity, authorities said. The notes, for instance, included a list of figures, some annotated with dates or other notations, under the letter “C,” a veiled reference to Garcia using only the first initial of his first name, according to authorities.

In addition to the indictment handed down on Friday by the jury, the defendants were also charged with 17 counts of honest services wire fraud and four counts of use of interstate facilities to promote and facilitate bribery in violation of the Travel Act.

Garcia was additionally charged with three counts of receiving bribes in connection with the business of a federally funded local government and organization. Valvano and Sablosky were additionally charged with three counts of offering those bribes.

Garcia is a long-time Hoboken resident who served on the Hoboken Board of Education and later as director of the Hoboken Housing Authority. He was also elected to the New Jersey Assembly for the 33rd Legislative District, representing Hoboken, Union City, Weehawken and portions of Jersey City.

Upon being ousted from the Hoboken Housing Authority in 2014 over questionable contracts with vendors, Garcia filed a lawsuit against then-mayor Mayor Dawn Zimmer, accusing her of “ethnic cleansing”— claiming Zimmer and husband Stan Grossbard were attempting to stack the housing authority with “upwardly mobile, white” political allies.

Garcia then went on to run for Hoboken’s City Council in 2015, losing to current Council President Jennifer Giattino.

In October, the sitting West Ward Councilman and former Invest Newark board member Joseph McCallum was also charged with one count of wire fraud in similar pay-to-play activities. Court documents referred to an unnamed co-conspirator which was later revealed to be Garcia by the New Jersey Globe, though federal charges hadn’t been pressed at the time.

McCallum, 65, was charged with one count of wire fraud for allegedly conspiring to use interstate wire communications to defraud Newark and Invest Newark of the right to McCallum’s honest services, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office. Invest Newark, which has undergone several name and leadership changes since 2014, is a quasi-governmental organization that mostly does work with the City of Newark. 

The defendants will be arraigned in federal court on a date to be determined, according to authorities. 

The honest services fraud conspiracy and honest services wire fraud charges each carry a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison. The Travel Act charges each carry a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison. The bribery concerning governments receiving federal funds charges each carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

All charges are punishable by a fine of $250,000 or twice the amount of the pecuniary gain from the offense. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of ill-gotten gains obtained from the bribery scheme.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-10-18 03:19:05 -0700