The state Attorney General's Office has charged a Bayville woman and a Clifton woman with filing fraudulent applications for Superstorm Sandy federal relief funds.
Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced Tuesday that DebraWeigman, 56, Bayville, and Carol Suto, 53, of Clifton had been charged. The two women obtained a total of $45,000 in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds, he said.
“That’s $45,000 that, as a result of their duplicity, was not available to help victims who really were left homeless by the storm and lost their primary possessions," Hoffman said. "People who commit this kind of fraud also are stealing time and resources from those who need to focus on getting relief funds to the most deserving. We will continue to ferret out and charge all of the cheats who defraud these relief programs.”
Weigman and Suto's arrests bring the number of homeowners charged with Sandy fraud to eight since March, he said.
The homeowners who have been charged so far are alleged to have filed fraudulent applications for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds. In some cases, they also applied for funds from a Sandy relief program funded by HUD. The HUD funds are administered in New Jersey by the DCA, according to the Attorney General's Office.
All of the homeowners falsely claimed 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. In three of the cases, the home had been left vacant and unused prior to Sandy. One of the homes had been damaged in a fire. In one of the cases charged today, the defendant leased the property and had been evicted before Sandy hit.
The Division of Criminal Justice served complaint-summonses today Weigman and Suto.
- Carol Suto, 53, of Clifton, N.J., was charged with third-degree theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsification. In applying for relief funds, Suto allegedly falsely claimed that a storm-damaged house on Monmouth Avenue in Port Monmouth was her primary residence, when in fact it was a vacant investment property that she planned to renovate. She received a total of $31,900 in FEMA grants, including $2,270 in rental assistance and $29,630 for home repairs. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General referred this case to the Division of Criminal Justice.
- Debra Weigman, 56, of Bayville, N.J., was charged with third-degree attempted theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsification. In applying for relief, Weigman allegedly falsely claimed that a storm-damaged house on Fremont Avenue in Seaside Heights, which she had leased prior to the storm, was her primary residence, when in fact she had been evicted from the property two weeks before Sandy struck and she was no longer living there. Weigman received a total of $13,373 in FEMA relief funds, including $5,553 for personal property damage and $7,820 for rental assistance. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General also referred this case to the Division of Criminal Justice.
“It’s a sad truth that wherever there is government aid, there will be cheats who try to cash in on it,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We’re working hard with our state and federal partners to catch these offenders and recover any relief funds that were stolen, so that there will be more money available to help those truly in need.”
The cases filed today were investigated by special agents of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. Deputy Attorneys General Mark Kurzawa and John A. Nicodemo are prosecuting the defendants for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau. They are working with Lt. David Nolan, Sgt. Fred Weidman and Analyst Alison Callery, who are conducting and coordinating the investigations by the Division of Criminal Justice.
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 prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty