Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that an Ocean County man pleaded guilty today to filing fraudulent applications for federal and state relief funds related to Superstorm Sandy. Since March 2014, the Attorney General’s Office has filed criminal charges against 37 people for allegedly engaging in this type of fraud.
Gregory Wagner, 63, of Toms River, pleaded guilty today to a charge of third-degree theft by deception before Superior Court Judge Wendel E. Daniels in Ocean County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Wagner be sentenced to 364 days in the county jail followed by a term of probation. He must pay a total of $218,209 in restitution. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 26.
Deputy Attorney General William Conlow prosecuted Wagner and took the guilty plea for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau.
In pleading guilty, Wagner admitted that he filed fraudulent applications following Superstorm Sandy for federal- and state-administered relief funds, receiving a total of $218,209 in benefits. Wagner falsely claimed that a storm-damaged property he owns on Avalon Avenue in Bayville was his primary residence at the time Sandy hit. In reality, Wagner was living in Toms River and the Bayville address was a rental property. Under each of the relief programs at issue, it was a requirement that the damaged property have been the applicant’s primary home at the time of the storm.
“Wagner lied repeatedly on applications for Sandy relief,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “He knew this critical aid was not meant for owners of income properties, yet he selfishly stole over $200,000 that should have gone to people left homeless by this catastrophic storm.”
“This guilty plea with its recommended jail term should deter others who might consider stealing relief funds,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We’ve been aggressively pursuing these cases with our state and federal partners because we need to send a message of zero tolerance that will deter this fraud in future disasters, so administrators can focus on the crucial work of recovery.”
Wagner received $31,900 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for rental assistance and personal property loss. In addition, he received $159,822 in grant payments from the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program, which were paid directly to a contractor for design and construction work on the damaged property, and a $10,000 grant from the Homeowner Resettlement Program. The funding for those two programs is provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but they are administered by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. Finally, Wagner received $16,487 from two rental assistance programs funded by the New Jersey Department of Human Services. Wagner applied for a low-interest disaster-relief loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration, but his loan application was rejected.
The Attorney General’s Office is continuing its efforts to investigate and prosecute fraud in Sandy relief programs, working jointly with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs 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).
The cases were investigated by detectives of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau and 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.