Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today announced that the Attorney General’s Office and its state and federal partners have charged three new defendants with filing fraudulent applications for federal relief funds related to Superstorm Sandy, bringing the total number of defendants charged by the office in these cases to 112 since March 2014.
“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,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We have recovered over $2 million through these prosecutions and we also have sent a strong message that should deter this type of fraud during future disaster relief efforts.”
The 112 people charged by the Attorney General’s Office were allegedly responsible for diverting nearly $7 million in relief funds.
Officials said the defendants are alleged, in most cases, to have filed fraudulent applications for relief funds offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In many cases, they also applied for funds from a Sandy relief program funded by HUD, low-interest disaster loans from the SBA, or funds from HHS. The HUD funds are administered in New Jersey by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs and the HHS funds are administered by the New Jersey Department of Human Services.
The following three defendants were charged yesterday by complaint-summons:
Diane DiCosmo, 74, of Fair Lawn, N.J., allegedly filed fraudulent applications following Superstorm Sandy for FEMA assistance and state grants under the Homeowner Resettlement Program (RSP) and the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program. As a result, she allegedly received a total of approximately $177,439 in relief funds to which she was not entitled. It is alleged that DiCosmo falsely claimed in her applications that a home she owns on Melody Lane in Lavallette, N.J., which was damaged by Superstorm Sandy, was her primary residence at the time Sandy struck. It is alleged that, in fact, her primary residence at the time of the storm was in Fair Lawn, and the home in Lavallette was a seasonal/weekend home. As a result of the alleged fraudulent applications, DiCosmo received approximately $6,515 from FEMA, $160,924 in RREM grant funds, and a $10,000 RSP grant. DiCosmo is charged with second-degree theft by deception.
Barry Benevento, 72, and his wife, Karen Benevento, 70, of Matawan, N.J., allegedly filed fraudulent applications following Superstorm Sandy for a low-interest SBA disaster-relief loan and state grants under the Homeowner Resettlement Program (RSP) and the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program. As a result, the couple allegedly received a total of approximately $127,388 in relief funds to which they were not entitled. It is alleged that the Beneventos falsely claimed in their applications that a home they own on Mary Jeanne Lane in Manahawkin, N.J., which was damaged by Superstorm Sandy, was their primary residence at the time Sandy struck. It is alleged that, in fact, their primary residence at the time of the storm was in Matawan, and the Manahawkin home was a seasonal/weekend home. As a result of the alleged fraudulent applications, the couple received an $8,600 SBA loan, a $10,000 RSP grant, and $108,788 in RREM grant funds. Barry and Karen Benevento are each charged with second-degree theft by deception.
“This historic anti-fraud initiative is a model of state and federal collaboration, which continues to produce results in terms of defendants charged and relief funds recovered,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We’ve recovered over $2 million and stand to recover much more by ensuring that all defendants pay full restitution.”
Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.