TRENTON, NJ – A Morris County couple pleaded guilty Wednesday to stealing $152,820 by filing fraudulent applications for federal relief funds related to Superstorm Sandy, according to Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal.
Carmine Fusco, 50, and Lauri Fusco, 50, both of East Hanover, N.J 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, 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 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.”