PASSAIC, N.J. – Passaic Mayor Alex D. Blanco admitted in federal court on Thursday that he took $110,000 in corrupt payments from developers doing business in the city.
Federal authorities didn’t say how much prison time Blanco faces as part of his deal with them. However, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman noted that the maximum penalty is up to 10 years and a fine of either $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss.
Sentencing was scheduled for Feb. 23.
Blanco, 44, of Passaic, official pleaded guilty to one count of “soliciting and accepting corrupt payments in connection with City of Passaic business,” Fishman said.
“The conduct admitted by Mayor Blanco demonstrates an aggressive and appalling greed,” the U.S. attorney said. “By soliciting these payments from developers, he took for himself federal money that was intended to help provide housing for the city’s poorest residents.
"We expect our public officials to behave differently.”
Blanco had an “intermediary” tell two developers granted approvals to build eight low-income residential units on property they owned in Passaic that they “they were expected to provide a sizable payment to the mayor to ensure that the project would proceed,” according to a complaint on file in U.S. District Court in Newark.
Soon after, the City Council approved the earmarked release of $216,400 in Housing
and Urban Development (HUD) funds to the developers for the project.
“In early September 2011, Blanco arranged for a meeting with the developers at which he solicited and agreed to accept $75,000,” the complaint says. “The next day, he arranged for a meeting with one of the developers in Clifton…and asked for the corrupt payment in cash, but was told by the developer that the developer had brought signed, blank checks, which could be made out to payees of Blanco’s choosing.
“Blanco obtained those checks – totaling $65,000 – once the payee lines had been filled in, arranged for them to be cashed, and pocketed the cash proceeds.”
A little over a week later, the complaint says, Blanco “arranged for another meeting in Passaic with one of the developers and solicited and accepted two additional checks totaling $40,000, proceeds of which were ultimately provided to Blanco in cash.
“In March 2012, Blanco accepted cash proceeds from an additional $5,000 check solicited on his behalf,” it adds. “Much of the $110,000 in corrupt payments was derived from the HUD monies that had been released to the developers in 2011.”
Fishman credited special agents of the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland
Security, Homeland Security Investigations, with the investigation leading to Thursday’s guilty plea. He also thanked special agents of the Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for their assistance.
Handling the case for Fishman’s office is Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark J. McCarren and José R. Almonte of the the Special Prosecutions Division in Newark and Assistant U.S. Attorney James M. Donnelly of the Criminal Division in Newark.
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