DUMONT, N.J. -- A Hoboken police officer who lived in Dumont scammed the government out of more than $187,000 in federal Superstorm Sandy relief funds by claiming that his Seaside Heights vacation home was his primary residence, state authorities charged.
Nikola Lulaj, 42, was one of five people charged in the latest round of prosecutions by acting New Jersey Attorney General Robert Lougy's office.
It brings the total to 62 defendants accused since March 2014 of filing fraudulent applications for federal Sandy relief funds, Lougy said Thursday.
Most of those chaged filed fraudulent applications with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), he said.
Many also applied for funds from a Sandy relief program funded by HUD, low-interest disaster loans from the SBA, or assistance provided by the New Jersey Department of Human Services.
“Each of these defendants knew the requirements to qualify for this disaster aid, but each selfishly lied about their circumstances to steal funding intended for those hardest hit by Sandy, namely homeowners who were left homeless and displaced renters forced to pay for new leases,” Lougy said. “It’s a sad truth that even in the direst of emergencies, when so many generous people step forward to lend a hand, there are others who will dishonestly exploit an offer of assistance.”
Lulaj is accused of illegally collecting $187,074 after filing bogus Sandy applications for 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, he said.
Lulaj "falsely claimed in his applications that a home he owns on Webster Avenue in Seaside Heights, which was damaged by Superstorm Sandy, was his primary residence at the time Sandy struck," Lougy said. "In fact, his primary residence was in Dumont."
He has since moved to the house in Seaside Heights, the attorney general said.
Lulaj is charged with theft by deception and unsworn falsification.
“We need to ensure that limited disaster relief funds are allocated to eligible victims who have the greatest needs,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Through these prosecutions, we’re sending a message of zero tolerance that should deter this criminal conduct in future emergencies, so relief administrators can focus on recovery instead of policing fraud.”
“Sandy recovery remains central to DCA’s mission, and a key part of that mission is helping our law enforcement partners root out people who are trying to game the system at the expense of storm victims who legitimately qualify for help,” said state Division of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Charles A. Richman. “Because defrauders and scammers impede the State’s recovery efforts and pilfer taxpayer dollars, my Department doesn’t hesitate to report suspicious applications when we see them.”
Lougy said his office was continuing joint investigations with state 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).
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