NJ Sandy fraud: 5 more charged with illegally taking relief funds
The Attorney General's office has filed charges against five more people accused of filing fraudulent applications for federal relief aid following Superstorm Sandy, bringing the total number to 64, since March 2014.
Authorities say the individuals allegedly filed the fraudulent applications in an effort to obtain Sandy relief money from FEMA and often from a Sandy relief program funded by HUD through the state, low-interest disaster loans from the SBA, or assistance offered by the NJ Department of Human Services.
According to the Attorney General's Office, the following defendants were issued summonses Thursday related to the alleged fraud:
Nikola Lulaj, 42, of Seaside Heights (formerly of Dumont, N.J.): Authorities say Lulaj allegedly filed fraudulent applications for FEMA assistance, a low-interest SBA disaster-relief loan, and several state grants, all totaling approximately $187,074 in relief funds. His application falsely claimed that his Seaside Heights home which was damaged by Superstorm Sandy on. Oct. 29, 2012, was his primary residence, prosecutors say. Authorities say he faces charges of second-degree theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsification.
Rachel Bryant, 53, of Philadelphia, Pa.: Prosecutors say Bryant claimed that a storm-damaged house she and her mother owners in Atlantic City was her primary residence when Sandy hit. Prosecutors say, however, she had been living in another residence at the time. Bryant fraudulently collected a total of $23,918 in FEMA assistance and state grant funds under the Sandy Homeowner and Renter Assistance Program funded by the New Jersey Department of Human Services prosecutor's say. She is charged with third-degree theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsification.
Gordon Sinclair, 40, of Summit: According to prosecutors, Sinclair's fraudulent application for funding stated that a storm-damaged property he owned in Lavallette was his primary residents during Sandy, although an investigation revealed he was living in Hoboken when the storm hit. He is charged with third-degree theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsification.
Pat G. Angelastro, 46, of Ortley Beach: Authorities allege that Angelastro fraudulently obtained a total of $10,000 by filing a false application following Superstorm Sandy for a state grant under the Homeowner Resettlement Program. Prosecutors say in his application for assistance, he falsely claimed that he was living in an Ortley Beach that he owned and sustained damage during Sandy. Authorities say, however, that the home was woned by his parents, which disqualified him from accepting grant funding. He is charged with third-degree theft by deception.
Catherine Alvira-Przybylski, 45, of Keyport: Authorities allege that the defendant fraudulently obtained $9,775 in FEMA rental assistance by submitting fraudulent claims stating that as a result of the storm, she incurred rental expenses. When Sandy struck, Alvira-Przybylski lived in an apartment in Seaside Heights that was damaged, forcing her to relocate, prosecutors say. Although, according to authorities, she legitimately received some FEMA funding, it is alleged that she fraudulently received additional rental assistance through the agency by "submitting false receipts indicating she herself paid rent and security deposits at times when, in fact, her housing expenses were paid with government or charitable relief funds, or were not paid at all." At the time, FEMA was paying for her to be sheltered in a hotel in Hazlet. Prosecutors allege that she also submitted receipts for rent and security deposits for another apartment, which was actually being paid for not by her, but through charitable organizations such as the American Red Cross. Alvira-Przybylski is charged with third-degree theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsification.
“Each of these defendants knew the requirements to qualify for this disaster aid, but each selfishly lied about their circumstances to steal funding intended for those hardest hit by Sandy, namely homeowners who were left homeless and displaced renters forced to pay for new leases,” said Acting Attorney General Lougy. “It’s a sad truth that even in the direst of emergencies, when so many generous people step forward to lend a hand, there are others who will dishonestly exploit an offer of assistance.”
The defendants could face fines and/or prison time if convicted of the fraudulent activities, according to the Attorney General's Office.
The OAG states that FEMA allocates up to $31,900 per applicant for federal disasters. To qualify for FEMA funds, applicants must affirm that the damaged property was their primary residence at the time of the storm.
Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.