Motel owner made $81,567 lying about helping Sandy victims, authorities say
TRENTON — A Toms River motel owner could face three years in prison after pleading guilty to charges that he falsely claimed his establishment provided temporary shelter to superstorm Sandy victims.
Sandipkumar Patel, 43, of Edison, was charged with second degree theft by deception after pleading guilty to stealing federal disaster relief funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino said Monday. As part of a plea agreement, the state recommended that Patel serve a three-year sentence in state prison.
According to Porrino, Patel admitted that he fraudulently obtained $81,567 from FEMA's Transitional Shelter Assistance program, which provided funds for hotels and motels that gave shelter to displaced Sandy victims following the storm.
Patel's business, the American Motel on Rt. 166 in Toms River, was paid $133.28 per day by FEMA for every room that was occupied by victims of the storm, Porrino said. According to Porrino, federal and state investigators discovered that Patel submitted the names of 11 people who he claimed stayed at the motel following the storm.
"Eight of the individuals never stayed at the motel at all, while the other three stayed for shorter periods than were billed, or, in one case, shared a room that Patel already had billed to FEMA in the name of the other occupant," the attorney general said.
Authorities say that in some cases, Patel claimed the Sandy victims stayed at his motel for weeks or months at a time, and billed FEMA for more than $50,000, using the names of several of his relatives that lived in New Jersey, but had not been displaced by the storm.
“This FEMA program enabled motel owners to shelter Sandy victims while still collecting a reasonable room rate, but Patel was more interested in stealing relief funds than helping victims,” Porrino said.
Division of Criminal Justice Director Elie Honig said the division has charged more than 70 people with defrauding programs providing Sandy relief. in addition, since March 2014, the Attorney General’s Office has filed criminal charges against 71 people who allegedly filed fraudulent applications Sandy relief funds.
Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.
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