Sandy contractor fraud is still a problem — NJ bill tries to help
More than seven years since Superstorm Sandy made landfall and decimated the Jersey Shore, victims of contractor fraud are still struggling to be made whole.
A bill getting its final vote in Trenton on Monday would make it easier for these folks to recover grant money they may have lost to unscrupulous builders.
The proposed law, sponsored by legislators on both sides of the aisle, would get rid of the current requirement that Sandy victims provide a document indicating their contractor has been charged with a crime involving fraud or theft by deception in order to receive fraud-response funding from the state Department of Community Affairs.
This document, commonly known as a charging document, has proven to be very difficult for many to obtain, according to New Jersey Organizing Project, an Ocean County-based group that advocates for victims of the 2012 storm.
"It is not as easy as walking in to the police station and saying I was robbed or my contractor didn't do the work. It's not that simple," said Jody Stewart, a community organizer for the group.
So they're hoping the full Senate gives the green light Monday to the measure that would provide an alternate method for fraud victims to apply for relief. Under the measure, DCA would be authorized to distribute funding as long as a law enforcement agency — from local police to the Office of the Attorney General — has reasonable cause to believe a contractor violated the consumer fraud act.
"Whether the delay for working families to return to their homes is caused by fraud, deception, or just plain incompetence, these families shouldn't suffer any longer," said state Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic. "They were awarded a grant to rebuild their homes that was essentially stolen from them by unscrupulous contractors, and yet bureaucracy makes it difficult for families to find relief."
The measure was approved unanimously by the full Assembly in May. While voting in favor of the measure during a committee hearing on Jan. 6, state Sen. Samuel Thompson, R-Middlesex, said he intends to introduce legislation that would remove the charging-document requirement for victims of all future disasters.
Stewart said NJOP is aware of 800 people involved with the state's RREM (Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation) program who are still not home.
If approved by the Senate, the measure would be sent to Gov. Phil Murphy.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at email@example.com.