TRENTON – Four more people have been charged with fraud relating to Superstorm Sandy, including two from Ocean County, bringing the total number of defendants charged to 116, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced.
“Any fraud against public assistance programs is deplorable, but these thefts were especially egregious because they diverted funds intended for victims left homeless by one of the most devastating storms in New Jersey history,” said Grewal in a press release. “We have recovered over $2.2 million through these prosecutions and we also have sent a strong message that should deter this type of fraud during future disaster relief efforts.”
Those 116 people allegedly diverted more than $7 million in relief funds. Numerous state and federal agencies have been investigating these fraudulent FEMA and other relief claims.
The state attorney general’s office alleges that Brian J. Kotowich, 57, of Beach Haven filed fraudulent applications after the hurricane. The State alleges he received approximately $187,881 in relief funds to which he was not entitled. He falsely filed claims for a home on West Connecticut Avenue in Beach Haven he said was a primary residence, though his primary residence was in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Kotowich is charged with second-degree theft by deception.
The state has also charged Anthony Novello, 63, of Forked River, with second degree theft by deception. He allegedly filed fraudulent applications after Sandy for FEMA assistance, a low-interest SBA disaster-relief loan, and state grants under the Homeowner Resettlement Program (RSP) and the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program. He allegedly received a total of approximately $169,334 in relief funds to which he was not entitled. Again, his primary residence was not the town claimed, which is in Clark, New Jersey.
Also charged with theft by deception are Charles Licastro, 64, Pine Brook, New Jersey and Thomas Aquilino, 56, of Yonkers, New York. They allegedly fraudulently obtained a total of $150,000 by filing false applications following Superstorm Sandy for state assistance under the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program. It is alleged that Aquilino falsely claimed that a storm-damaged property he owns on Baltimore Avenue in Point Pleasant, was his primary residence at the time Sandy hit. It is alleged that, in reality, his primary residence at the time of the storm was in Yonkers, N.Y., and the Point Pleasant house was a seasonal/weekend property. Aquilino received a total of $150,000 in RREM grant payments to repair the Point Pleasant property. Aquilino is charged with second-degree theft by deception.
“In order to repair vacation or investment properties, these defendants allegedly stole funds that were strictly intended for victims who needed to rebuild or restore their primary homes,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “While many generously helped others after the storm, these property owners allegedly helped themselves.”