WASHINGTON — Former New York Rep. Robert Garcia, a founding member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus who was forced to resign in 1990, died at age 84 in Puerto Rico on Wednesday.
Garcia was born in the Bronx and his father was from Puerto Rico. He earned two Bronze Stars in the U.S. Army during the Korean War as an engineer.
He served in the New York State Assembly and New York Senate before running for the House in 1978 to replace Herman Badillo after Badillo’s resignation.
He ran as a Republican after losing the Democratic primary and returned to the Democratic Party after his election. Garcia served as chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
In 1979, Garcia was a sponsor of legislation to establish Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national holiday. But he pulled the legislation when the House included an amendment that would have made the holiday observed on a Sunday.
Garcia was also a vocal opponent of the Reagan administration’s efforts to arm the Contra insurgency in Nicaragua and was one of eight members of the Hispanic Caucus to vote for legislation to stop arming them, according to his House biography.
He worked with Republican Rep. Jack Kemp of New York on legislation to establish enterprise zones in impoverished areas, but Democrats opposed the plan and it died in the House.
But he was forced to resign in disgrace in 1990 when Wedtech, a Hispanic-owned defense contractor in Garcia’s district, received millions of dollars. An investigation by U.S. Justice Department found a bribery and extortion scheme that implicated Garcia.
In 1989, Garcia and his wife were convicted of extortion and conspiracy charges but that was overturned on appeal. The two were convicted again in 1991, but the conviction was overturned a second time.
He later worked as a lobbyist and was involved with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.