Criminal Charges for Hurricane Sandy Relief Fraud in New Jersey
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office recently reported that five residents of New Jersey were being charged with filing fraudulent applications for federal relief funding in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The AGO says that a total of 96 people are accused of making fraudulent claims for disaster relief since 2014. Several of the alleged scammers said they needed relief money to fix their primary residences because the funds were only available to primary residences’ damaged by the hurricane.
–A Florida man received more than $171,000 in relief by falsely claiming that his “primary residence” was in Long Branch, NJ.
–The second man from New Jersey received almost $138,000 in relief for his weekend home in Brick. The home isn’t his primary residence.
–The third man from New Jersey claimed more than $41,000 to fix his Ventnor vacation home. The home wasn’t his primary residence.
–A New Jersey woman got almost $18,000 to restore her Manahawkin property. Authorities learned her name wasn’t on the deed at the time the hurricane damaged the home.
–The second New Jersey woman received almost $20,000 to repair her Seaside Park vacation home.
All defendants were charged with theft by deception. Four out of five of the defendants also face unsworn falsification.
New Jersey’s Attorney General has stated that his office will aggressively investigate fraudulent Hurricane Sandy relief claims. The state alleges that the defendants stole funds from available disaster relief programs and thereby stole from the actual victims of the storm.
Under N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3, theft by deception is considered taking something that belongs to another party with the intention to deprive the property owner. To prove theft by deception, the prosecutor must show that the defendant used “deceptive words” or acts in order to prompt the owner to give intangible or tangible property.
The degree of the criminal charge is determined by the amount of money involved. A second-degree crime involves values of $75,000 or more. A third-degree crime involves a sum of at least $500 – $75,000. Any theft by deception conviction in New Jersey involves jail time.
A common theft by deception circumstance includes the creation of a false impression that the individual is seeking the return of funds paid to a contractor for home improvement or that the individual or group gave money to another party that improperly characterized itself as a charity. A theft by deception charge may be brought for allegations of filing a false insurance claim, padding an expense account, or (as in this example) receiving benefits from a public assistance program by omitting or falsely reporting information.
The state bears the burden of proof. It must prove at least three elements—beyond a reasonable doubt—to get a conviction for theft by deception:
- The state must prove that the defendant improperly obtained another party’s property.
- The state must prove that the defendant deceived the victim(s) to obtain the property.
- The state must prove that the victim improperly relied on the fraudster’s deception to give the property to the defendant(s).
If you or someone you love is facing a charge of theft by deception, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney. Jill R. Cohen, a former assistant prosecutor in Camden County NJ and a former Assistant Philadelphia District Attorney, has the experience you need. She is a Certified Criminal Trial Attorney by the NJ Supreme Court. Call The Law Office of Jill R. Cohen or fill out our convenient online contact form to request an initial case evaluation now.
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