A former deputy mayor in Newark was charged Thursday with taking thousands of dollars in bribes from two New Jersey businessmen in exchange for redevelopment agreements with the city, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark.
Carmelo Garcia, 45, of Hoboken, also a former state assemblyman, was charged with conspiracy to commit bribery in connection with several redevelopment projects, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said in a statement.
Also charged were Frank Valvano, 52, of Florham Park, and Irwin Sablosky, 60, of Springfield, the owners of a pawn shop and jewelry business, as well as a redevelopment company that operated in Newark.
“Garcia has the distinct reputation of someone who rose from public housing to his current status as a devout family man and upstanding citizen,” said Timothy Smith, Garcia’s attorney, countering the allegations
Smith stated his client will see his accusations through to his exoneration.
The series of bribes and subsequent development deals were documented by text messages among the three, including complaints between Valvano and Sablosky that Garcia’s greed was overextending their coffers, according to court documents.
In one text exchange from March 2019, Sablosky lamented that “Carmelo wants more too. We can’t afford it,” adding, “we’re a [expletive] money well for these guys to keep coming back to,” according to U.S. attorneys.
In another text conversation included in the federal complaint, an associate of Valvano and Sablosky warned that Garcia was “playing us all,” after which Valvano implied that if Garcia failed to secure more properties for their business, there would be “a huge scandal.”
A lifelong Hoboken resident, Garcia once represented the 33rd legislative district in the state Assembly and directed the Hoboken Housing Authority until 2014, according to his LinkedIn profile.
But it was from 2017 to 2018, when he worked at Newark’s Department of Economic Housing and Development as well as the quasi-public redevelopment agency Invest Newark, when prosecutors say he accepted thousands in bribes from Volvano and Sablosky.
The complaint describes multiple meetings between Garcia and his co-defendants, as well as an intermediary identified as “Individual 2” that the three allegedly used to exchange money and other gifts, including jewelry from the store.
In one alleged meeting, Garcia met at an unnamed restaurant in Mountainside with Individual 2, who’d been given an envelope stuffed with $25,000 in cash from Valvano. Garcia allegedly went into the men’s room, left a gym bag in a stall and then moved to the sink to wash his hands. Individual 2 then walked in, dropped the envelope in the gym bag and left, according to the complaint.
Just days after the alleged payment, Valvano and Sablosky were designated preliminary developers for multiple projects by the city, according to Thursday’s statement.
Other texts between the two businessmen allegedly referenced a visit Garcia paid to Sablosky to discuss development agreements and to procure another payment. When Valvano asked if money was involved, Sablosky confirmed that Garcia had “left with another 5,” referencing the $5,000, according to transcripts included in the criminal complaint.
“I want to get these [agreements] through before we start rocking the boat,” Sablosky added, according to the document.
If convicted, the three co-defendants could face five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the alleged scheme.
Garcia is no longer employed with Newark or its non-profit development agency. According to the complaint, he began consulting work with an unnamed employer in 2019.
The city’s legal department did not immediately return a request for comment. Garcia’s attorney, Tim Smith, didn’t have an immediate comment when reached by telephone.
Volvano and Sablosky could not be reached.