Ready to prove his innocence
Garcia, who was the 51st person arrested in this investigation, made his initial court appearance in front of Judge Paul F. Chaiet at 1:30 p.m. last Friday, where he was formerly charged with racketeering, conspiracy to commit financial facilitation of criminal activity (conspiracy to commit money laundering), promoting gambling, and conspiracy.
His attorney Stephen Turano posted Garcia's $100,000 bail that same day. "He is extremely eager to prove his innocence," said Turano. "I am still hopeful that we can sort this out. They are mistaken about his involvement, that is for sure. He definitely did not manage, organize or operate any of this gambling ring."
Turano stated the week before, that the involvement Garcia may have had in the operation was placing infrequent bets. They are currently waiting for the next court date to be set. The individual charges carry maximum penalties of five to ten years in prison and additional fines of up to $150,000.
Garcia served as a state assemblyman in the 33rd District from 1993 to 2001. He also served as mayor of Union City from 1998 until he resigned in October of 2000 following numerous public problems including a state investigation into the practices of the now defunct Union City Democratic Organization, which Garcia chaired, and a large tax increase in his city.
At that time, current Mayor Brian Stack had also brought forth a movement asking for a recall election. Garcia is currently a lobbyist in Trenton. "I certainly hope [his position] won't be in jeopardy, that would be unfortunate," said Turano.
Following the 16-month investigation, known as "Operation Thunderbird," which was spearheaded by the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office and the New Jersey State Police, 47 members of the organization were apprehended in the initial raid on March 28. Investigators also had the cooperation and assistance of over 300 local, county, state, and federal law enforcement agents and officers, including the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office, in executing the arrests statewide.
"The cooperation between and among law enforcement agencies was paramount to the success in dismantling this criminal organization," stated Monmouth County Prosecutor Luis A. Valentin.
The "Operation Thunderbird" investigation revealed that members of the gambling enterprise were allegedly responsible for a running sports gambling operation that served hundreds of bettors throughout New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The group allegedly operated from Internet sites - managed from Costa Rica - and took bets through toll free numbers.
Between or about August 2005 to February 2007, bettors allegedly placed over $500,000,000 worth of wages and lost over $35,000,000, or 7 percent of the total.
Forty-seven arrests were made in the statewide raid on March 28, including several individuals from throughout Hudson County in North Bergen, Hoboken, and Secaucus. Authorities also seized over $2,000,000 in cash, an excess of $300,000 in frozen bank accounts, 14 vehicles, and one 28 foot Thunderbird Yacht Model 280S named "Risky Business" worth $130,000.
There was also a forfeiture order placed on a bay-front estate worth several million dollars. In addition to Garcia's recent arrest, three other individuals from New Jersey and New York were also arrested in connection with the ongoing investigation after the initial raid.
"These additional arrests further represent our commitment to apprehend all identified agents of this illegal enterprise and bring them to justice," stated Valentin.
"Illegal gambling is a quality of life crime that may seem harmless, but is often perpetrated by organized, and sometimes violent, criminal expertise," stated Lt. Colonel Gayle Cameron, deputy superintendent of investigations for the New Jersey State Police. "This racketeering operation had no government oversight and paid no taxes. It took from society without returning anything."
Jessica Rosero can be reached at email@example.com