Political tensions in West New York became even more heated this week after opponents of Mayor Felix Roque claimed that a local contractor, convicted in a bribery scheme, had held a fundraiser for the mayor.
Pablo Fonseca, spokesperson for the city, said that although Rolando Cribeiro had attended the fundraiser held in West New York two weeks go, he had not organized it, nor was the event a fundraiser for Roque.
“It was a fundraiser for a Super PAC,” Fonseca said, noting that Roque was a speaker at the event and not involved in the raising of funds.
Cribeiro, who pled guilty to bribery last May, did attend the event with a number of other guests, but not at the invitation of Roque.
“The treasurer of the PAC was responsible for the invitations,” Fonseca said.
Cribeiro has become one more political issue raised by Roque opponents in a series of political confrontations that involve attempts to wrestle control of the school board away from Roque this year, and the ultimate prize of mayor and commissioners in May 2015.
“I never heard any complaints about the projects he did in West New York.” – Sal Vega
Jail term delayed
Cribeiro, a Hudson County contractor, was sentenced to a five month jail term and fined $1,500 for bribing a bank official in order to obtain a $3.5 million line of credit needed to complete a project. The bribery transpired according to the court judgment in the criminal case during a period between 2008 and 2010.
Cribeiro was scheduled to begin serving his sentence on Jan. 6, but his attorney Arthur Zucker, of Ferro Labella & Zucker of Hackensack, requested a delay in a Dec. 17 letter to District Judge Peter Sheridan.
“Mr. Cribeiro has been assisting his mother (to) deal with a health issue which recently became serious,” Zucker wrote. “Mr. Cribeiro takes his mother to most of her medical appointments and assists her in interacting with her medical providers.”
The letter requested an extension of Cribeiro’s surrender date for six weeks until mid-February in order to continue this assistance. The delay was approved by the Assistant U.S. Attorney, Vikas Khanna, the letter said.
Local businessman for years
Several people close to Roque claim that political opponents are exaggerating Cribeiro’s influence on Roque and even his criminal background. These sources point to the light sentence as evidence that court itself did not see the crime as significant.
“He comes from a hard-working Cuban family in West New York,” said one source who did not want his name used. “His family ran a carpet business in town for years. They sold and installed carpets. That’s what he did for years.”
Cribeiro’s business later evolved into wholesale carpet sales, and at one point, he began to get into joint ventures with contractors for installation in new buildings. Eventually, he developed a contracting business of his own.
“He did a number of projects in West New York,” said former Mayor Sal Vega. “This was before the Roque Administration over even mine.”
Those close to Cribeiro said the downturn in the economy in 2008 left his company without a credit line to be able to continue work, and that the bribe he was convicted of giving appears to have been an effort to secure a line of credit in order to allow him to continue projects frozen during the downturn.
“I never heard any complaints about the projects he did in West New York,” Vega said.
Political opponents have raised the issue to call into question Roque’s judgment about people he associates with.
“This is not the kind of thing that inspires confidence in the mayor,” said one public official outside of West New York.
But several people close to Roque call the hoopla over Cribeiro “much ado about nothing,” suggesting that he was not part of the inner circle, but someone who has done business in town for years and has had contact with numerous administrations without any suggestion of improprieties.
According election law, a candidate cannot be involved with the raising of funds for a Super PAC, Fonseca said.
“The organizers do not have to donate the money to Roque,” he said. “They can spend the money where they want.”
He said Cribeiro was among many guests who had been invited, including a number of other prominent public officials such as former WNY Commissioner Gerald Lange and WNY Parking Director Richard Rivera.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.