Alex Blanco, former Democratic mayor of Passaic, New Jersey, was sentenced yesterday to 27 months in prison and three years of supervised release for accepting $110,000 in bribes from from two developers working on a low-income housing project in that city.
The conviction resulted from a joint investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Blanco pled guilty last November to one count of soliciting and accepting corrupt payments in connection with City of Passaic business.
Brian A. Michael, acting special agent in charge, Homeland Security Investigations in Newark, stated, “The mayor’s sentencing sends a message that no one is above the law. It is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our special agents and their law enforcement colleagues – job well done.”
The ICE website contained the following April 18 report:
“Mayor Blanco admitted to aggressively soliciting and accepting illegal payments from developers, taking for himself federal money that was intended to help provide housing for some of the city’s poorest residents,” Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick said. “This case demonstrates that public officials who exploit their office for personal gain can expect to be thoroughly investigated and aggressively prosecuted.”
“Public corruption is one of the FBI’s top priorities,” Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher of the FBI Newark Division said.
“Today’s sentencing of former 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.”
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 had 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.
At sentencing, Blanco stood before federal Judge William Martini, whose uncle was Passaic’s mayor from 1943 to 1947.
Martini stated that he weighed the need for a sentence strong enough to act as a deterrent while also considering the hardship Blanco’s incarceration would cause his family. Martini said a disturbing factor in the scandal was that it was Blanco who had approached the developers.
Said Martini, “I would be more understanding if you were approached. But you initiated this.”
ICE deserves well-earned praise for working on cracking this case, closing a sordid chapter in the history of Passaic, New Jersey.