NEWARK, N.J. – The mayor of the City of Passaic, New Jersey, today admitted taking $110,000 in corrupt payments from developers doing business in the city, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Alex D. Blanco, 44, of Passaic, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge William J. Martini in Newark federal court to an information charging him with one count of soliciting and accepting corrupt payments in connection with City of Passaic business.
“The conduct admitted by Mayor Blanco demonstrates an aggressive and appalling greed,” U.S. Attorney Fishman 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.”
“Public corruption is one of the FBI’s top priorities,” Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher of the FBI Newark Division said. “Today’s guilty plea by Passaic Mayor Alex Blanco is indicative of how diligently the FBI and our law enforcement partners work corruption matters. We will continue to investigate allegations of public corruption thoroughly to ensure any person who misuses their public office for private gain is held accountable.”
“The mayor’s guilty plea is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our special agents and their law enforcement colleagues—job well done,” Special Agent in Charge Terence S. Opiola, Homeland Security Investigations, Newark Field office, said.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
From 2010 through 2012, two developers were seeking to build eight low-income residential units on property they owned in Passaic. After the Passaic City Council and the Passaic Zoning Board of Adjustment granted approval, Blanco – who has been mayor since November 2008 – had an intermediary approach the developers in July 2011. The developers were told they were expected to provide a sizable payment to the mayor to ensure that the project would proceed.
A short time later, the Passaic City Council approved the release of $216,400 in Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds to the developers, money that had been earmarked 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 next day, he arranged for a meeting with one of the developers in Clifton, New Jersey, 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.
About eight days later, 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. Much of the $110,000 in corrupt payments was derived from the HUD monies that had been released to the developers in 2011.
The charge to which Blanco pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss caused by the offense. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 23, 2017.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Gallagher; and special agents of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Opiola, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea. He also thanked special agents of the Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Christina Scaringi, for their assistance in the investigation.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark J. McCarren and José R. Almonte of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Special Prosecutions Division in Newark and Assistant U.S. Attorney James M. Donnelly of the Criminal Division in Newark.
Defense attorneys: Joseph A. Hayden Jr. Esq., and Aidan P. O’Connor Esq., Hackensack, New Jersey