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State charges four with scamming government of Sandy relief funds

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

BEYOND BERGEN: State authorities today charged four more people with filing bogus FEMA claims for Hurricane Sandy relief, as an ongoing crackdown continues.

Since March, the office of acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman has filed criminal charges against 20 people for filing fraudulent Sandy claims.

Those charged by complaint summonses today include Michael A. Vetter, 56, of Bayonne, who Hoffman said claimed he’d rented an apartment on Kennedy Boulevard from November 2012 through this January when he hadn’t after the storm forced him from his Little Egg Harbor home.

Vetter, in turn, collected $16,200 in federal rental assistance. He was charged with theft by deception and unsworn falsification.

Hoffman said the defendants “selfishly and deviously stole from federal and state relief programs, diverting funds that are desperately needed for those whose primary homes were battered and left uninhabitable” by Sandy.

“The harm caused by these thefts is compounded because relief administrators and supporting agencies must dedicate time and resources to pursue these cases, when they should be able to focus exclusively on those in need,” he said.

Hoffman said his office is coordinating the investigations 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), and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

The others charged:

Nabil Girgis, 65, of Toms River, who allegedly filed fraudulent applications following Superstorm Sandy for a FEMA grant and for a state grant under the Homeowner Resettlement Program (RSP).

Girgis “claimed that a storm-damaged residence on Hiering Avenue in Seaside Heights was his primary residence,” Hoffman said. “It is alleged that the Seaside Heights house actually is a two-unit rental property, and his primary residence is in Toms River.

“Both units of the property in Seaside Heights were allegedly rented to tenants at the time of Superstorm Sandy. Girgis received the maximum amount provided by FEMA, $31,900. He also received a $10,000 RSP grant.

“In sum, Girgis allegedly received $41,900 through filing fraudulent applications. Girgis is charged with third-degree theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsification.”

Nicole Loryn Fiel, 34, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was charged with filing a fraudulent application for a FEMA grant, which netted $28,080 in federal funds. Fiel “allegedly claimed that a storm-damaged home that she co-owns with her father in Brick Township was her primary residence.

“In fact, it is alleged that Fiel’s primary residence at the time of Superstorm Sandy was in Brooklyn….She had been renting the house in Brick to tenants, but it was vacant at the time of Sandy and for several months prior to the storm. Fiel is charged with third-degree theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsification.”

Robert T. Bland, 41, whose most recent known address was in Highlands, was charged with filing a fraudulent application for FEMA rental assistance following Hurricane Sandy.

“Bland allegedly received a total of $19,385 in federal rental assistance as a result of the false application,” Hoffman said. ” Bland allegedly claimed that he was renting a room at the Thunderbird Motel in Seaside Heights at the time of Superstorm Sandy and was displaced as a result of the storm.

“Although a female friend of Bland had rented a room at the motel a short time before Sandy, she moved out approximately a week before the storm hit, and Bland allegedly never resided with her and her child at the motel.
“Bland submitted a letter that purported to be from the Thunderbird Motel in support of his application, vouching that he lived there, but the letter allegedly was fraudulent.

“The room Bland claimed he occupied at the time of the storm actually was occupied by a couple and was not the room that had been rented by his friend. Bland is charged with third-degree theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsification.”

In some cases, they also applied for funds from a Sandy relief program funded by HUD or low-interest disaster loans from the SBA, Hoffman said. The HUD funds are administered in New Jersey by the Department of Community Affairs.

The four cases charged today were investigated by DHS-OIG and the Division of Criminal Justice, Hoffman said.

Deputy Attorney General Mark Kurzawa, Deputy Chief of the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau, and Deputy Attorneys General John A. Nicodemo and Derek Miller are prosecuting the defendants, he said.

They are working with Lt. David Nolan, Sgt. Fred Weidman and Analyst Alison Callery, who are conducting and coordinating the investigations for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau, along with other detectives, including Detective Matthew Burd and Detective John Neggia, he said.

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