Syracuse, NY — Former Upstate administrator Sergio Garcia pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor Wednesday, admitting that he submitted a puffed up resume to get his $340,000-a-year job at the taxpayer funded university and hospital.
Garcia’s plea bargain left Upstate’s former Chief of Staff with a criminal record, but spared him a felony conviction. Prosecutor Melanie Carden had sought a felony, accusing Garcia of intentionally lying on his resume as part of a greater plan to defraud the university; Garcia’s lawyer, Joseph Bergh, had argued no crime was committed, saying his client simply exaggerated his resume.
The plea comes after a long-running investigation that began after Garcia quit in 2018 following a controversial speech that included exaggerated remarks about his foreign service. The subsequent investigation uncovered exaggerations on his resume about his work in the U.S. Department of State — he wasn’t “Chief of Staff,” as he claimed — and there were questions about the validity of his college degree.
In court, Garcia admitted to “falsehoods and exaggerations” on his resume.
He would have escaped criminal charges if he’d puffed his resume to work for a private hospital. But because he was hired by then-Upstate President Danielle Laraque-Arena to work at a public institution, his resume was considered an official government document.
That led a grand jury earlier this year to indict Garcia on felony charges of defrauding the government and filing a false instrument. Garcia pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor version of filing a false instrument, admitting that he filed false information with the state-owned hospital, but not that he was intentionally defrauding taxpayers.
The investigation isn’t over. Left undecided after Garcia’s plea is how much money he stole from taxpayers by taking his huge yearly salary in portions of 2017 and 2018.
A judge, Gordon Cuffy, will hear arguments on both sides before deciding how much money Garcia owes.
Prosecutors have argued that Garcia should have to repay most — if not all — of his $400,00 salary over two years because he lied to get the job. That made his entire salary part of his scheme.
Garcia’s lawyer, Joseph Bergh, noted that his client had been a hospital administrator in the North Country and in suburban Cleveland before coming to Upstate, so he had actual experience beyond his puffery. He did, in fact, graduate from Case Western University in Cleveland with a Master’s degree in hospital administration. In addition, Garcia did a good job while employed by Upstate, his lawyer said.
Both sides agreed to let Cuffy decide the restitution amount after hearing arguments from both sides. But taxpayers shouldn’t expect to get money from Garcia anytime soon: whatever he ends up owing will be filed in the clerk’s office, like a credit card judgment. That will put Upstate in line to be repaid, if and when Garcia gets the money.
Bergh would only say that his client was making far less at his current job than he was at Upstate.
As for his criminal punishment, Garcia won’t face any if he stays out of trouble in the near future. The plea calls for a conditional discharge, meaning that he has to stay out of trouble for three months or the case could be reopened.
Cuffy also held off on actually sentencing Garcia until the restitution debate on Nov. 13. That means that his three months of staying out of trouble won’t start until then. In addition, the judge could sentence him to jail if he messes up between now and then.
Garcia declined comment as he left court.
Staff writer Douglass Dowty can be reached at [email protected] or 315-470-6070.