TRENTON, NJ – A Morris County couple that includes a 1986 Livingston High School graduate pleaded guilty on Feb. 20 to stealing $152,820 by filing fraudulent applications for federal relief funds related to Superstorm Sandy, according to Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
Carmine and Lauri Fusco, both 50 years old from East Hanover, each pleaded guilty to third-degree theft by deception before Superior Court Judge Linda Baxter in Ocean County. According to Grewal, the state will recommend that Carmine be sentenced to 180 days in the county jail and a term of probation, and that Lauri, a Livingston native, be sentenced to a term of probation under the plea agreement. He also noted the couple must pay full restitution.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, a sentencing has been scheduled for both defendants on April 17.
“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 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.”
Deputy Attorney General William Conlow prosecuted the defendants and took the guilty pleas for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau. Both individuals 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.
Grewal stated that 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.
According to Grewal, the couple falsely claimed that a home they own on West End Drive in Point Pleasant, which was damaged by the storm, was their primary residence at the time Sandy struck. However, it was later found that their primary residence at the time of the storm was in East Hanover, and that the house in Point Pleasant was a vacation/weekend home.
As a result of the fraudulent applications, the Fuscos received $2,280 from FEMA and $150,000 in RREM grant funds.
“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 Veronica Allende, director of the Division of Criminal Justice. “These efforts exemplify effective law enforcement collaboration.”
According to Grewal, most of the more than 125 cases of fraud related Sandy relief programs involve “primary residence fraud,” similar to the type committed by Carmine and Lauri Fusco. He added that the 125-plus defendants were responsible for diverting more than $8 million in relief funds.
Grewal’s 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).