A Jersey City resident who has held titles with the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency and Invest Newark pleaded guilty to two federal charges in connection with alleged wrongdoing in an Essex County municipality, Jersey Digs has learned.
United States District Court filings show that Franklyn Ore accepted a plea agreement after being charged with both aiding and abetting fraud of an organization receiving federal funds and with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The charges relate to what is being referred to by federal prosecutors in the District of New Jersey as the “Saturday Literacy Program Scheme” and the “Orange Conspiracy.”
Ore previously served as the Senior Vice President of Real Estate Development for Invest Newark and its predecessor, the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation. He also was once a project manager for the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency and a member of the Orange Board of Education.
The information was filed on January 13. In regards to the aiding and abetting charge, the document shows that Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren was authorized by the City Council in January 2014 to apply for a $50,000 Community Development Block Grant to fund the Orange Public Library’s Saturday Literacy Program, which was intended to offer “tutoring services for low and moderate-income families.” The grant was later awarded following an agreement with the county.
Then, in March 2015, an Orange municipal official referred to as “Individual 1,” who was listed as being a friend of Ore, reportedly “caused a false and fraudulent voucher and phony supporting documents to be submitted to the county seeking payment in the amount of $32,331.” The information states that $23,000 of these funds were expected to reimburse a company called Urban Partners, LLC that was founded by Ore and was supposed to have provided services related to the Saturday Literacy Program. The documents submitted allegedly even included “a sham contract between Urban Partners and the library,” “falsified reports” regarding the number of children attending the Saturday Literacy Program, and “fraudulent invoices.”
Subsequently, in May 2015 an Orange Public Library employee called “Individual 2” reportedly signed a “second false and fraudulent voucher” seeking a $19,002 payment to allow for the library to be reimbursed for Urban Partners’ services, even though “Urban Partners had not rendered such services.” Once Urban Partners received checks from the library, in the summer of 2015, Ore allegedly distributed “a substantial amount of the proceeds” to Individual 1 and a third person labeled as “Individual 3” while using the remainder of the proceeds for personal use, such as “entertainment and restaurants.”
The wire fraud conspiracy charge against Ore relates to the Central Orange Redevelopment Area and the planned redevelopment of the former YWCA location on Main Street in Orange. The information states that in July 2015, Orange awarded a one-year $150,000 contract for economic planning services in the Central Orange Redevelopment Area to an urban planning company based in Montclair.
Ore is alleged to have provided “concealed and undisclosed kickbacks” to Individual 1 using “money and property obtained from Orange” in order to influence this official’s actions regarding the Central Orange Redevelopment Area and the YWCA redevelopment. Individual 1’s behaviors apparently included approving the $150,000 contract and arranging for the Montclair-based company to pay Ore’s Urban Partners, LLC $50,000 per year to work on the Central Orange Redevelopment Area project. Ore then allegedly worked for this Montclair-based company between August 2015 and February 2016 and received $33,220, some of which was given to Individual 1 and Individual 3. In addition, Ore allegedly submitted a “fraudulent invoice” for $16,800 to the City of Orange Township in December 2015 for YWCA “project management oversight.” This invoice was then reportedly approved by Individual 1 even though this official and Ore “knew that no such services had been rendered.” In return, Individual 1 is alleged to have received a “substantial amount” of the $16,800.
In his guilty plea application, Ore indicated that he “obtained by fraud, knowingly converted, and intentionally misapplied property of an organization receiving federal funds.” He signed a waiver of indictment on January 13 and subsequently posted a $25,000 unsecured bond, according to court filings.
News of potential wrongdoing in Orange broke back in 2016, when the library was raided by federal officials. Investigators searched City Hall in Orange at the beginning of 2017, according to NJ Advance Media. Individuals 1, 2, and 3, along with the Montclair-based company, have still not yet been identified. Essex News Daily reported more than three years ago about an FBI subpoena that sought information related to Orange’s dealings with the Nishuane Group, a planning company based in Montclair, along with Ore and Urban Partners.
Attempts to reach Ore for comment by phone and through social media on Saturday were not successful. Although Ore is still listed as an Invest Newark employee on the organization’s website, he indicated in his guilty plea application that he is unemployed. Messages sent to his workplace email address are being responded to with an out-of-office reply stating that “Franklyn Ore is no longer employed with Invest Newark.”
Sentencing has been scheduled for April 20. Ore faces up to two decades in prison, a fine of $250,000, and nearly $45,000 in restitution.