A Livingston accountant has been indicted today and is charged with orchestrating a scheme in which he and 14 co-defendants allegedly defrauded the state of nearly $700,000 by filing false claims for unemployment benefits. Todd Halpern allegedly filed claims using identities stolen from clients, and filed fraudulent employment records in the names of businesses he served in order to support the claims.

15 Charged in unemployment scheme (Photo: NJ Office of the Attorney General)

The charges stem from “Operation April Fools,” a joint investigation by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Officials say Halpern, who was never licensed as an accountant in New Jersey, allegedly used his fraud schemes to fund lavish expenditures that included season tickets to the New York Giants, purchases of jewelry, gold and silver, and high-end vehicles, including a Cadillac Escalade, Lexus GX-470 and classic 1957 Chevy Bel Air.

“To satisfy his greed, Todd Halpern allegedly stole the identities of his clients and fraudulently collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits,” says Acting Attorney General John Hoffman. “The alleged thefts committed by this con artist and his co-defendants constitute an affront to honest, hardworking New Jersey residents, who pay into the unemployment insurance fund with their employers and who count on benefits being available as a safety net if they lose their jobs.”

The Department of Labor has implemented new security measures under Gov. Chris Christie and Commissioner Wirths to eliminate weaknesses exploited by the defendants and detect fraud in connection with claims filed for unemployment benefits. Those software and program changes, which enable the department’s information technology systems to identify fraudulent claims, resulted in a lead on April 1, 2012 that prompted the investigation that led to the indictment of Halpern and his co-defendants. Because of the date, the investigation was dubbed “Operation April Fools.”

“If not for the many new anti-fraud measures put into the place during this administration, we would not be catching these types of schemes,” says Wirths. “Since March 2011, my department has stopped more than $253 million in fraud, and we have been recognized twice by the U.S. Department of Labor for leading the nation in combating fraud. We will continue to find new tools and utilize every measure possible to protect public funds.”

Those Charged by Indictment or Accusation Are:

  1.  Todd P. Halpern, 48, of Livingston;
  2. George J. Halpern, 74, of Short Hills;
  3. Jack B. Chesner, 81, of Morris Plains;
  4. Miriam Chesner, 78, of Morris Plains;
  5. David Altman, 42, of Plainfield;
  6. Manuel Cruz, 28, of Union City;
  7. Henry Ford, 54, of Plainfield;
  8. Dario Gomez, 43, of Newark;
  9. Augustin Gomez, 29, of Jersey City;
  10. Alexis Leguizamon, 41, of Jersey City;
  11. Garry Lloyd, 58, of Williamstown;
  12. Andres Lopez III, 41, of Lyndhurst;
  13. Osiris Perez, 44, of Bronx, N.Y.;
  14. Chalin E. Romero, 24, of Union City; and
  15. Edgard Torres, 49, of North Bergen