A former City of Newark official and officer of the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation (NCEDC) and two business owners were charged today for their roles in a bribery scheme, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.
Former Assemblyman Carmelo G. Garcia, 45, of Hoboken, New Jersey; Frank Valvano Jr., 52, of Florham Park, New Jersey; and Irwin Sablosky, 60, of Springfield, New Jersey, are each charged by complaint with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery in connection with the business and transactions of a federally funded local government and organization. Garcia was a high-level Newark official, and prior to that, an executive officer of the NCEDC (now known as “Invest Newark”). Valvano and Sablosky are co-owners of a New Jersey-based pawnbroker and jewelry business. The defendants will appear in federal court on a date to be determined
According to documents filed in the case and statements made in court:
From 2017 through April 2019, Garcia sought and received significant monetary payments and other benefits from Valvano, Sablosky, and others in exchange for Garcia’s use of his official positions and influence to assist Valvano and Sablosky with securing redevelopment agreements (RDAs) with the City of Newark to purchase and acquire various city-owned properties for redevelopment, including obtaining preliminary designated developer status, and to ensure that Garcia did not act against their interests. In addition to money, Garcia also received jewelry from the pawnbroker and jewelry business that Valvano and Sablosky co-own.
Phone records and text messages obtained by law enforcement document extensive communications among Garcia, Valvano, Sablosky, and others about the bribery scheme, including text messages in which Garcia arranged to personally collect cash provided by Valvano and Sablosky. In one instance, in June 2018, Garcia, then acting deputy mayor and director of the city’s Department of Economic and Housing Development (EHD Department), received an envelope containing $25,000 in cash, supplied by Valvano through an intermediary, in the restroom of a New Jersey restaurant. Text messages obtained by law enforcement show that Garcia used his personal cellular phone to coordinate the location and timing of the meeting. Approximately five days later, the EHD Department issued letters granting preliminary designated developer status for several properties to two limited liability companies controlled by Valvano and Sablosky. Garcia, whose name and official title were also prominently displayed on the letterhead, was copied on both letters.
In 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 (Individual 1), as well as their ongoing efforts to obtain RDAs with the city to acquire and redevelop additional properties. For instance, on March 31, 2019, Valvano texted Sablosky to complain that Garcia’s associate, who sometimes served as an intermediary between Garcia and Sablosky and Valvano, was “already looking for [more] money.” After observing that “We’ve done nothing but spend tons of money and give away jewelry,” Sablosky noted that “Carmelo [Garcia] wants more too. We can’t afford it . . . We’re a [expletive] money well for these guys to keep coming back to.”
On April 13, 2019, Sablosky also sent text messages to Valvano regarding a meeting he had with Garcia the previous day and his giving Garcia an additional payment of $5,000. Sablosky noted that Garcia had “showed up [at] 5pm last night” to discuss another “RDA” he and Valvano were attempting to obtain from the city. When Valvano asked whether there was “Any mention of $$,” Sablosky responded, “He [Garcia] didn’t just come to visit!! Lol. He got another 5,” referencing the $5,000 payment. Sablosky also told Valvano, “When you get back we have to add everything and sit down with him [Garcia]. I want to get these RDAs through before we start rocking the boat.”
The count of conspiracy to commit bribery carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, or twice the gross pecuniary gain or loss from the offense.
U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. in Newark; special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael Montanez; and special agents of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Christina Scaringi, with the investigation leading to the charges.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey J. Manis, Elaine K. Lou, and Jihee G. Suh of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Special Prosecutions Division.
The charge and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.