OCEAN COUNTY – Yet another two have been convicted for fraud for filing false applications for relief following Superstorm Sandy, announced Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal.
Nikola Lulaj, 45, of Seaside Heights and his wife, Majlinda Lulaj, 32, have been found guilty of filing fraudulent applications for federal relief funds in the amount of $187,000. Nikola is an officer with the Hoboken Police Department.
The couple was charged with of second-degree conspiracy, second-degree theft by deception, and six counts of fourth-degree unsworn falsification. They were convicted before Superior Court Judge James M. Blaney.
“As a result of the verdict, Lulaj must forfeit his employment as a police officer,” stated a press release from the Attorney General’s office.
The second-degree charges carry a sentence of 5-10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
The Lulaj’s will be sentenced in January; the date is yet to be determined.
According to testimony and evidence presented during the trial, the couple filed fraudulent applications for relief funds in the form of FEMA assistance, a low-interest SBA disaster-relief loan, and state grants under the Homeowner Resettlement Program (RSP), the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program, and the Sandy Homeowner and Renter Assistance Program (SHRAP) funded by the New Jersey Department of Human Services.
The fraudulent applications totaled approximately $187,074 in relief funds: $2,820 from FEMA, $90,200 in SBA loan proceeds, a $69,054 RREM grant, a $10,000 RSP grant, and a $15,000 SHRAP grant.
The Lulaj’s applications claimed that their property on Webster Avenue in Seaside Heights, which was damaged during Sandy, was their primary residence during the storm. Their actual primary residence was located in Dumont, NJ.
In the time since Sandy struck, the couple has moved into the Webster Ave. home; however it was designated as a vacation/rental property during Superstorm Sandy, stated the AG’s office.
“For a police officer to commit this type of fraud is particularly egregious, because officers take an oath to uphold the law and we rightly hold them to the highest standards,” said Attorney General Grewal. “When disaster strikes, we cannot allow dishonest applicants to divert disaster relief funds from the intended recipients – namely, those victims whose primary homes were destroyed or damaged.”
“We have recovered well over $2 million through these prosecutions and have delivered a strong message that should deter this type of fraud during future disaster recovery efforts,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “I commend our trial team for this verdict and thank all of our law enforcement partners for their excellent work in these historic anti-fraud efforts.”
This conviction follows on the heels of 120 other charges against defendants who allegedly committed fraud related to Sandy relief programs.
Deputy Attorneys General Thomas Clark and Jamie Picard tried the case for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau. They were assisted at trial by Detective Mark Byrnes, Detective Franco Cignarella and Analyst Rita Gillis.
The case was investigated for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau by Deputy Attorney General Thomas Clark and Detective Mark Byrnes; with special agents of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, HUD Office of Inspector General and SBA Office of Inspector General. The case was investigated and prosecuted under the supervision of Lt. Vincent Gaeta, Lt. David Nolan, Sgt. Fred Weidman, Deputy Bureau Chief Mark Kurzawa and Bureau Chief Julia S. Glass of the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau.