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Four charged with defrauding Superstorm Sandy relief funds

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It’s been 21 months since Superstorm Sandy hit the Jersey Shore and the N.J. State Attorney General’s Office is still on the job, announcing on Wednesday July 16, 2014, that four more people have been charged with filing false applications from Sandy relief funds. Two of the four have ties to Ocean County.

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Since March, the Attorney General’s Office has filed criminal charges against 12 people for allegedly engaging in this type of fraud. The individuals who have been charged are alleged, in most cases, to have filed fraudulent applications for relief funds offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In some cases, they also applied for funds from a Sandy relief program funded by HUD or low-interest disaster loans from the SBA.

The HUD funds are administered in New Jersey by the DCA. The eight individuals charged previously were all homeowners who allegedly obtained relief funds by falsely claiming that storm-damaged homes at the Jersey Shore were their primary homes, which is a requirement under the relief programs. In reality, the homes were rental properties or vacation homes.

Charged in the latest crackdown is:

Rita O’Connor, 60, of Toms River, charged with third-degree theft by deception. It is alleged that O’Connor, whose home in Toms River was damaged in Superstorm Sandy, fraudulently obtained $2,270 in FEMA rental assistance by falsifying checks and receipts for two months of rent that she purportedly paid to her daughter to rent a home in Ridgewood. It is alleged that O’Connor never rented the home, which was not owned by her daughter.

Mary Conlin, 51, of West Chester, Pa., was charged with second-degree theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsification. In applying for a low-interest SBA disaster-relief loan, Conlin allegedly falsely claimed that a storm-damaged house that she owns on Nancy Drive in Manahawkin was her primary residence, when in fact it was a vacation home. Conlin ultimately was approved for a $145,900 SBA loan, from which she received $137,400 in loan proceeds.

Leonor Canales, 40, of Orlando, Fla., formerly of Elizabeth, N.J., was charged with third-degree theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsification. Canales applied for FEMA rental assistance after the apartment she rented in Elizabeth was damaged by Superstorm Sandy. Canales allegedly received a total of $22,172 in FEMA rental assistance through February 2014, while fraudulently failing to disclose that throughout the period covered by the FEMA rental assistance, she received federal Section 8 Housing Assistance that covered her rent. She submitted numerous false receipts indicating that she personally had paid rent in order to back up her claim for FEMA rental relocation funds.

Magdi Mosaid, 55, of Hasbrouck Heights, was charged with two counts of third-degree attempted theft by deception and one count of fourth-degree unsworn falsification. It is alleged that Mosaid filed two fraudulent applications for Homeowner Resettlement grants funded through HUD and administered by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs in connection with storm-damaged properties in Little Ferry and Rochelle Park. In each case, he allegedly falsely claimed that the house was his primary residence, when in fact it was a rental property that he owned as a landlord. DCA flagged the applications because they reflected multiple primary residences for a single applicant, and no funds were paid on the claims.

“The circumstances of these new cases vary widely, but all four defendants are alleged to have shamelessly falsified information to drain Sandy relief funds away from legitimate applicants,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “We’re working hard to recover these funds and to stop dishonest applicants from wasting the time and resources of relief administrators who need to focus on helping deserving victims.”

Those who also have filed false claims might have some trouble sleeping tonight; the state is not done hunting down those who allegedly violated the law. “With these ongoing prosecutions, we’re delivering a wake-up call to anyone who would consider taking Sandy relief funds through fraud,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Falsifying these applications is a crime, and anyone who does it will be caught and charged as a criminal. We continue to investigate these cases with our state and federal partners.”

Those charged are presumed innocent until proven in guilty in a court of law.

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