For at least 15 years, an Elizabeth landlord has demanded sexual favors from tenants to get or keep apartments while offering reduced rent to others in exchange for sex, federal authorities charged.
Joseph Centanni, who owns hundreds of rental units in and around Elizabeth, “initiated or threatened to initiate eviction actions against tenants who objected to or refused his sexual advances,” U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said Wednesday.
The U.S. Justice Department took the case because Centanni -- who is married and lives in West Mountainside -- receives roughly $102,000 a month in Section 8 money from the government, carpenito said.
A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Newark by federal authorities alleges that Centanni “offered housing benefits like reduced rent in exchange for sexual favors, touched tenants and applicants in a way that was sexual and unwelcome, and made unwelcome sexual comments and advances to tenants and applicants.”
“No one should ever be forced to provide sexual favors, or otherwise endure sexual harassment, as a condition to keep or obtain housing,” Carpenito said.
The federal lawsuit seeks “monetary damages to compensate the victims, civil penalties to vindicate the public interest, and a court order barring future discrimination.”
It was brought following a joint investigation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Office and Office of Inspector General.
Alleged victims of sexual harassment or other types of housing discrimination at rental units owned or managed by Centanni, or who have other information that may be relevant to the case, are asked to contact the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743. Select Option #1 to leave a message.
Citizens can also report sexual harassment and other forms of housing discrimination to the U.S. Attorney’s Office Civil Rights Hotline at (855) 281-3339 or e-mailing the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Handing the case for the government is Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael E. Campion, the chief of Carpenito’s Civil Rights Unit; Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Millenky, also of the Civil Rights Unit; and Trial Attorneys Erin Meehan Richmond and Kathryn Legomsky of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division Housing and Civil Enforcement Section.
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