Seaside Heights man & former Hoboken cop sentenced for Sandy fraud
A former Hoboken Police officer who resides in Seaside Heights is sentenced to five years in prison and his wife three years of probation and community service for stealing $187,000.00 in Sandy relief funds, announced New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
Nikola and Majilinda Lulaj were found guilty in October on several charges including theft by deception for filing fraudulent applications for FEMA assistance, an SBA loan and state grants under the RSP, RREM and SHRAP programs.
Nikola, 45, of Seaside Heights (formerly of Dumont, N.J.) - who forfeited his job as an officer with the Hoboken Police Department as a result of his conviction - was sentenced to state prison by Superior Court Judge James M. Blaney in Ocean County.
His wife, Majlinda, 32, was sentenced to three years of probation, conditioned upon completion of 50 hours of community service.
Both defendants were ordered to pay full restitution.
The husband and wife were found guilty in October by an Ocean County jury of charges of second-degree conspiracy, second-degree theft by deception, and six counts of fourth-degree unsworn falsification.
The state presented testimony and evidence at trial that Nikola and Majlinda allegedly filed fraudulent applications following Superstorm Sandy for FEMA assistance, a low-interest SBA disaster-relief loan, and state grants under the Homeowner Resettlement Program (RSP), the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program, and the Sandy Homeowner and Renter Assistance Program (SHRAP) funded by the New Jersey Department of Human Services.
They received a total of approximately $187,074.00 in relief funds.
The couple falsely claimed in their applications that a home they own on Webster Avenue in Seaside Heights, which was damaged by Superstorm Sandy, was their primary residence at the time Sandy struck.
Their primary residence was in Dumont.
They have since moved to the house in Seaside Heights, but at the time of the storm, it was a vacation/rental property.
As a result of the alleged fraudulent applications, Nikola and Majlinda received $2,820.00 from FEMA, $90,200.00 in SBA loan proceeds, a $69,054.00 RREM grant, a $10,000.00 RSP grant, and a $15,000.00 SHRAP grant.
Deputy Attorneys General Thomas Clark and Jamie Picard tried the case and handled the sentencing for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau.
They were assisted at trial by Detective Mark Byrnes, Detective Franco Cignarella and Analyst Rita Gillis.
"For a police officer to commit this type of fraud is particularly egregious, because officers take an oath to uphold the law and we rightly hold them to the highest standards," Attorney General Grewal said. "When disaster strikes, we cannot allow dishonest applicants to divert disaster relief funds from the intended recipients - namely, those victims whose primary homes were destroyed or damaged."
"We have recovered well over $2 million through these prosecutions and have delivered a strong message that should deter this type of fraud during future disaster recovery efforts," Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice said. "I commend our trial team for securing the verdict and these sentences, and I thank all of our law enforcement partners for their excellent work in these historic anti-fraud efforts."
The case was investigated for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau by Deputy Attorney General Thomas Clark and Detective Mark Byrnes. They conducted the investigation with special agents of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, HUD Office of Inspector General and SBA Office of Inspector General.
The case was investigated and prosecuted under the supervision of Lt. Vincent Gaeta, Lt. David Nolan, Sgt. Fred Weidman, Deputy Bureau Chief Mark Kurzawa and Bureau Chief Julia S. Glass of the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau.
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