Rep. Robert Garcia (D-N. Y.), who is scheduled for sentencing this month on his extortion conviction in the Wedtech case, announced Tuesday that he will resign from his House seat effective Sunday.
Garcia, 56, and his 48-year-old wife, Jane Lee Garcia, were convicted in October of extorting $178,500 in cash, loans and jewelry from the Wedtech Corp., a now-defunct defense contractor based in Garcia's South Bronx district.
Sentencing is set for Jan. 19. The Garcias could face up to 45 years each in prison and $750,000 in fines. In addition, the congressman is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, but that inquiry will become moot once he quits.
The six-term Bronx congressman said that he was resigning "with deep sadness." He was vacationing with his family in Florida and would not speak to reporters, said Ron Simoncini, Garcia's spokesman.
"The people of the Bronx have always been the most important part of my life, and representing them is the greatest honor I could ever know," Garcia said in a statement issued in New York. "But I have always said that if I could not serve their best interests I would leave office."
In resigning, Garcia follows the example of fellow Bronx Democrat Mario Biaggi, who gave up his seat in August, 1988, after convictions in the Wedtech and Coastal Dry Dock cases. Biaggi is serving an eight-year prison term.
Garcia said he did not foresee a resolution to his legal problems "sufficient to allow me to fully carry out the duties of my office."
"Vacating my seat now allows Gov. (Mario M.) Cuomo to call for a special election in time for the people of the Bronx to choose a new member of Congress to serve out this term," he said.
Several Democrats already have lined up to seek his seat, but Bronx Democratic leaders have privately suggested that state Assemblyman Jose Serrano is the likely successor. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic, and whoever gets the party's endorsement would be the front-runner.
Garcia, the only mainland-born Puerto Rican ever elected to Congress, won his seat in 1978 in a special election after Rep. Herman Badillo resigned to become a deputy New York City mayor.
In Congress, Garcia gained a reputation as "an articulate, fast-talking, enthusiastic legislator," according the 1990 "Almanac of American Politics." But his best-known piece of legislation--a bill to create federal tax-exempt enterprise zones to attract business to inner cities--has never been passed, despite the co-sponsorship of then-Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N. Y.).
Nevertheless, the concept of giving tax breaks to developers of decaying neighborhoods has been adopted in some states.