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Press Release

Former Newark Deputy Mayor and Director of Newark Department of Economic and Housing Development Admits Scheming with Two Newark Businessmen to Obtain Bribes

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Jersey

NEWARK, N.J. – A former city of Newark official who served as deputy mayor and director of the Newark Department Economic and Housing Development (DEHD) and served as executive vice president and chief real estate officer of the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation (NCEDC) today admitted conspiring with two Newark business owners to obtain corrupt payments intended to influence and reward him for assisting the business owners with the acquisition and redevelopment of various Newark-owned properties, U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger announced.

Carmelo G. Garcia, 49, of Hoboken, New Jersey, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Madeline Cox Arleo to three counts of an information charging him with conspiracy to defraud the city of Newark and the NCEDC of Garcia’s honest services, honest services wire fraud, and receiving bribes in connection with the business of a federally funded local government and organization.

“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.”

U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger

“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.”

“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.”

According to documents filed in the case and statements made in court:

From 2017 through April 2019, while serving as a high-level Newark official, and prior to that, as an executive officer of the NCEDC (now known as Invest Newark), Garcia sought and received significant monetary payments and other benefits from Frank Valvano Jr., Irwin Sablosky, and others in exchange for Garcia’s use of his official positions and influence within the city of Newark and the NCEDC to advance real estate development matters of interest to Valvano and Sablosky. These matters included obtaining preliminary designation letters for Valvano and Sablosky and securing Newark-approved redevelopment agreements (RDAs) that allowed them 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. In addition to cash, Garcia also received jewelry, including multiple high-end watches and chains, from Valvano and Sablosky’s pawnbroker and jewelry business. 

Phone records and text messages obtained by law enforcement show extensive communication between Garcia, Valvano, Sablosky, and others throughout this period of time, including text messages in which Garcia arranged to personally collect cash provided by Valvano and Sablosky. In one instance, in June 2018, Garcia, then the city’s acting deputy mayor and director of the city’s DEHD, received an envelope containing $25,000 in cash, supplied by Valvano through an intermediary, in the restroom of a New Jersey restaurant.

E-mails obtained by law enforcement further show 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 Valvano and Sablosky and the actions that Valvano and Sablosky were seeking from Garcia in his capacity as a Newark official and NCEDC executive for those benefits. 

The honest services fraud conspiracy and honest services fraud charges in Counts One and Two each carry a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison. The bribery charge in Count Three carries 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. As part of Garcia’s guilty plea, he agreed to criminal forfeiture of the $25,000 corrupt cash payment and administrative/civil forfeiture of the jewelry that he obtained from the scheme. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 12, 2024.

Garcia originally was charged by indictment in October 2021 with Valvano, 56, of Florham Park, New Jersey, and Sablosky, 64, of Springfield, New Jersey. Valvano and Sablosky’s case is pending before Judge Arleo, and they are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. 

U.S. Attorney Sellinger credited special agents of the FBI’s Newark Field Office, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge James E. Dennehy; special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jenifer L. Piovesan 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 Vazquez, with the investigation leading to today’s plea.

The government is represented by Elaine K. Lou, Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division, and Katherine J. Calle and Edeli Rivera of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Special Prosecutions Division.

Updated July 10, 2024

Public Corruption
Press Release Number: 24-246