Former Newark housing official pleads guilty in phone scam

March 31, 2022 GMT

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A former official with Newark’s housing authority has admitted scamming his employer out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in a scheme involving cell phones and other electronic devices.

Venancio Diaz was the agency’s director of information technology. In his guilty plea in federal court on Wednesday, the 56-year-old Jersey City resident acknowledged using his position between late 2013 and last summer to buy more than 1,500 cellphones and tablets using the authority’s money.

After activating them for a short time, prosecutors alleged, Diaz would sell them to online electronics resellers and pocket the money.

According to the U.S. attorney’s office, Diaz made nearly $600,000 from the scam.

Diaz pleaded guilty to one count of theft from an agency receiving federal funds. The offense carries a maximum prison term of 10 years upon conviction, though Diaz likely will receive a shorter term when he is sentenced in August.

“Mr. Diaz is a decent person who made some very poor decisions which he has taken full responsibility for,” Diaz’s attorney, Joel Silberman, said in an email Thursday. “He apologizes and looks forward to making full restitution to the NHA.”