Despite pleading guilty to equity skimming last week, former West New York Commissioner Ruben Vargas will continue his work at the town housing authority since there was no language in the guilty plea requiring him to be fired, according to corporation counsel.
After a brief closed session that only lasted a few minutes, former board of education and commissioner candidate Pat Cullen, who now works at the town library, implored the board to fire Vargas as soon as possible.
Hudson County View then addressed the board, seeking a more thorough answer as to why Vargas was allowed to maintain his employment at the authority.
” … We [myself and labor counsel] both concur that there is nothing in the plea agreement that requires that Mr. Vargas forfeit his office. That was not a lapse by the U.S. Attorney’s Office: they don’t make mistakes,” responded Frank Leanza, WNYHA counsel who is also a municipal judge in Guttenberg.
“Apparently, at this stage, they are not requiring him to give up his office. In the near future, he’s gonna face a judge for sentencing. The judge may address that issue and if he or she does address it, and determines that he has to forfeit his employment, then we will have no choice but to act accordingly.”
Leanza also said that the crime in question occurred well before Vargas was employed at the authority in February 2015, he does not deal with any financial or administrative aspects of the authority and has gone above and beyond the expectations of the job since being hired.
According to the plea agreement, dated March 17th, there is no specific language that says Vargas, who earns about $35,000 annually as the head of security at the housing authority, is banned from holding public employment.
Vargas’ sentencing is scheduled for August 18th at U.S. District Court in Trenton and typically the maximum sentence for equity skimming is a $500,000 fine and five years in prison.
However, his plea agreement states that he cannot be sentenced to more than three years of supervised release or more than two years of imprisonment – if he violates any of the conditions of supervised release.
He will also have to pay back the approximately $149,900 in rent he collected while he defaulted on a $417,000 mortgage loan from the U.S. Department of Housing of Urban Development (HUD) between 2007 and 2013.
Vargas declined to comment immediately following the meeting.