NJ disability fund manager stole millions to impress the ladies
An Edison man and a Toms River woman have pleaded guilty to their roles in scamming millions from the New Jersey Traumatic Brain Injury Fund while the two were romantically involved.
Harry Pizutelli was manager of the publicly funded health care benefit program over a 10-year span when he led $4.5 million in phony payments to maintain and pursue romantic and sexual relationships with Maritza Flores and other women, according to U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger.
The 64-year-old Pizutelli pleaded guilty by videoconference in Trenton federal court to conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud.
Flores, 45, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and tax evasion.
Pizutelli, Flores and co-defendant C.R. Kraus, also of Toms River, were arrested by special agents of the FBI and IRS in January 2021.
Charges were still pending against Kraus as of Wednesday.
Funds meant for patients
The TBI Fund is a publicly funded program run by the state Division of Disability Services, under the Department of Human Services.
New Jersey residents who have suffered a traumatic brain injury are able to seek money for needed services when funding from insurance, personal resources or other programs is unavailable to meet their needs.
Such services can include physical, occupational, and speech therapy, cognitive therapy and wheelchair ramp installation and other home modifications, among others.
Depths of scam
From 2009 through June 2019, Pizutelli, Kraus, Flores, and others funneled more than $4.5 million from the fund, in fake payments for services that were never actually provided.
As manager of the TBI Fund, Pizutelli led the scam by creating and processing false invoices and internal payment vouchers.
Flores received more than $940,000 of the funds, while Kraus received more than $3.2 million, which they both used for personal benefit and enrichment.
Pizutelli admitted that another $400,000 or so of the phony payments went to other women who provided no actual services to TBI Fund patients — but whom he was pursuing for sexual or romantic encounters.
The healthcare fraud conspiracy charges and tax evasion charge each carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a hefty fine.
Pizutelli was slated for sentencing on May 8 — Flores was set for sentencing a day later.
Erin Vogt is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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