A Morris County couple admitted pocketing $152,820 in taxpayer-funded Superstorm Sandy relief by claiming their damaged Jersey Shore home as their primary residence, state authorities charged.
The home that Carmine Fusco and Lauri Fusco, 50, own on West End Drive in Point Pleasant that was damaged by the historic storm is actually a summer/weekend property, state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said Wednesday.
Their primary residence at the time of the storm was, and continues to be, in East Hanover, he said.
By lying on applications, the Fuscos received $2,280 from FEMA and $150,000 in grant funds from the state Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program, Grewal said.
Both pleaded guilty to theft-by-deception charges after striking deals with state prosecutors.
Carmine Fusco will be sentenced on April 17 to 180 days in the county jail, followed by probation, Grewal said. His wife will be sentenced the same day to probation, he said.
The couple also must pay full restitution, the attorney general said.
Deputy Attorney General William N. Conlow negotiated the plea deal for the state Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau following a joint investigation with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office of Inspector General.
Since March 2014, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office has filed similar charges against 125 people accusing them of collecting a combined $8+ million in relief funds that Grewal said they weren't entitled to.
State authorities have recovered $2.4 million of that money so far -- and, in doing, so "have sent a strong message that should deter this type of fraud during future disaster relief efforts," the attorney general said.
“Any fraud against public assistance programs is deplorable, but these thefts were especially egregious because they diverted funds intended for victims left homeless by one of the most devastating storms in New Jersey history,” Grewal said.
Director Veronica Allende of the state Division of Criminal Justice noted that renters, as well as owners, have been charged with falsely claiming they were displaced by the storm or lost personal property.
“The success of our cooperative state and federal anti-fraud program in the wake of Superstorm Sandy should deter this conduct in future disasters so that funding is preserved for those who need it most and relief administrators can focus on recovery, not policing fraud,” Allende said.
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