EAST HANOVER — New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that a Morris County couple pleaded guilty to stealing $152,820 by filing fraudulent applications for federal relief funds related to Superstorm Sandy.
Carmine Fusco, 50, and Lauri Fusco, 50, of East Hanover, each pleaded guilty to third-degree theft by deception before Superior Court Judge Linda G. Baxter in Ocean County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Carmine Fusco be sentenced to 180 days in the county jail and a term of probation, and that Lauri Fusco be sentenced to a term of probation. The couple must pay full restitution. Judge Baxter scheduled sentencing for both defendants for April 17.
Deputy Attorney General William N. Conlow prosecuted the defendants and took the guilty pleas for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau. They were charged in a joint investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-Office of Inspector General.
In pleading guilty, the Fuscos admitted that they filed fraudulent applications following Superstorm Sandy for FEMA assistance and a state grant under the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program. As a result, the couple received a total of $152,820 in relief funds to which they were not entitled.
The couple falsely claimed in their applications that a home they own on West End Drive in Point Pleasant, 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 East Hanover, and the house in Point Pleasant was a vacation/weekend home. As a result of the alleged fraudulent applications, the Fuscos received $2,280 from FEMA and $150,000 in RREM grant funds.
“We have charged over 125 defendants and recovered more than $4 million through our collaborative efforts to investigate and prosecute thefts of federal relief funds after Superstorm Sandy,” said Attorney General Grewal. “These prosecutions send a clear message that we will not tolerate those who selfishly divert relief funds intended for those whose primary homes were destroyed or damaged.”
“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 funding is preserved for those who need it most and relief administrators can focus on recovery, not policing fraud,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “These efforts exemplify effective law enforcement collaboration.”
This case was investigated jointly by members of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and the HUD-Office of Inspector General. It was investigated and prosecuted for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau by Deputy Attorney General Conlow and former Special Civil Investigator Ronald Rauer, under the supervision of Sgt. Fred Weidman, former Lt. David Nolan, Deputy Bureau Chief Mark Kurzawa, and Bureau Chief Julia S. Glass.
The Attorney General’s Office has charged over 125 defendants with fraud related to Sandy relief programs. Most of the cases involve “primary residence fraud” of the type committed by Carmine and Lauri Fusco. The 125-plus defendants allegedly were responsible for diverting more than $8 million in relief funds. The office is continuing its aggressive efforts to investigate fraud in Sandy relief programs, working jointly with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA), and the Offices of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Also assisting the taskforce is the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller, New Jersey Department of the Treasury Office of Criminal Investigation, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the non-profit National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).