NEWARK, N.J. – A Florham Park man and his business partner gave thousands in cash and jewelry to a former Newark official in return for securing development agreements on city-owned properties, according to federal officials.

The man, Frank Valvano, 52, faces a charge of conspiracy to commit bribery, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense, said the U.S. Attorney’s Office in announcing the charge.

It said Valvano and his business partner, Irwin Sablosky, 60, of Springfield gave the money and jewels to “high-level Newark official” Carmelo Garcia, 45, of Hoboken. Sablosky and Garcia were also charged with conspiracy to commit bribery, said authorities.

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Valvano and Sablosky are co-owners of a pawnbroker and jewelry business, according to the USAO. Garcia held a number of Newark positions including acting deputy mayor, director of the city’s Department of Economic and Housing Development (EHD) and executive officer of the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation (NCEDC) now known as “Invest Newark,” according the USAO.

It said Garcia, between 2017 and early 2019, “sought and received significant monetary payments and other benefits from Valvano, Sablosky and others” in exchange for using 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.”

It noted that Garcia also received jewelry from the pawnbroker and jewelry business owned by Valvano and Sablosky.

Cash in a Restroom

“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,” said officials in a press release.

“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,” said the USAO.

It said Garcia used his personal cell phone to arrange 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,” noted the USAO. “Garcia, whose name and official title were also prominently displayed on the letterhead, was copied on both letters.”

Authorities said Valvano and Sablosky discussed, via text messages secured by investigators, additional payments of money and jewelry to Garcia and an associate of Garcia, “as well as their ongoing efforts to obtain RDAs with the city to acquire and redevelop additional properties.”

'He Didn't Just Come to Visit!'

The USAO cited examples.

“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,’” said the statement. “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.’”

The authorities said Sablosky, on April 13, 2019, sent text messages to Valvano in which he discussed a meeting he had with Garcia the prior day at which he gave Garcia an extra $5,000.

“Sablosky noted that Garcia had ‘showed up [at] 5 pm last night’ to discuss another “RDA” he and Valvano were attempting to obtain from the city,” said the USAO. “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.’”

U.S. Attorney Craig 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.