Two Seaside Heights homeowners, as well as Ortley Beach and Pelican Island homeowners, have been charged with falsely claiming their seasonal homes in Ocean County were their primary residences in order to obtain Superstorm Sandy relief aid.
The charges were announced by acting New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman.
Laura Cortese and Anthony Cortese, both 53, of Warren, allegedly filed fraudulent applications for relief funds following the storm, claiming that a storm-damaged property they own on Fremont Avenue was their primary residence at the time Sandy hit. It is alleged that, in reality, their primary residence was in Warren, and the property in Seaside Heights was a summer home.
Together the couple filed an application for a low-interest SBA disaster-relief loan. They were approved for a $64,000 SBA loan, but ultimately accepted and received just $40,000 in loan proceeds. Several other applications were filed solely by Laura Cortese and resulted in the receipt of an additional $40,998 in relief funds, for a total of $80,998 in federal and state grant and loan funds received between the two defendants. Laura Cortese applied for FEMA assistance and state grants under the Homeowner Resettlement Program (RSP) and the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) program. She received $28,875 in FEMA rental assistance, a $10,000 RSP grant and a $2,123 RREM grant payment. Laura Cortese is charged with second-degree theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsification. Anthony Cortese is charged with third-degree theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsification.
Patrick Dori, 58, of Englewood, allegedly filed fraudulent applications for the RSP and RREM programs. He received a total of $55,902 as a result of the alleged fraud, which resulted from his claim that a storm-damaged property that he owned on Third Avenue in Ortley Beach, was his primary residence at the time Sandy hit. It is alleged that, in reality, Dori’s primary residence was in Englewood, and the property in Ortley Beach was a summer home. Dori received $31,900 in FEMA relief funds, which is the maximum amount that FEMA allocates to any individual applicant. He also received a $10,000 RSP grant and a total of $14,002 from a grant under the RREM program. Dori is charged with third-degree theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsification.
Robert F. Scott, 71, of Jupiter, Fla., allegedly filed a fraudulent application for FEMA assistance. It is alleged that Scott falsely claimed that a storm-damaged home he owns on Sunset Drive on Pelican Island, was his primary residence at the time Sandy struck. In fact, his primary residence was in Jupiter, Fla., and the home in Seaside Heights was a vacation home, the state claims. As a result of the alleged fraudulent application, Scott received $31,900 in FEMA relief funds, as well as $29,630 for home repairs and $2,270 in rental assistance. Scott is charged with third-degree theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsification.
The local homeowners were among seven charged this week, in addition to 45 such prosecutions since the storm.
“While the facts vary, the common element in all of these cases is that the defendants shamelessly lied in order to qualify for relief funds that they knew they were not entitled to receive,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Our goal in these joint efforts is to recover the stolen funds and also to send a clear message that this type of fraud will be met with serious criminal charges, now and during any future disaster relief efforts.”
Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000, while fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in state prison and a fine of $10,000.