According to a Jan. 7 press release from New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s office, a former Hoboken police officer was sentenced to prison on Jan. 7 after being convicted in October of stealing $187,000 by filing fraudulent applications for federal relief funds related to Superstorm Sandy.
Nikola Lulaj, 45, of Seaside Heights, and his wife Majlinda Lulaj, 32, were convicted on Oct. 25 by an Ocean County jury of second-degree conspiracy, second-degree theft by deception, and six counts of fourth-degree unsworn falsification, according to the press release.
On Jan.7, Nikola Lulaj, who left his job as an officer with the Hoboken Police Department as a result of his conviction, was sentenced to five years in state prison; his wife Majlinda Lulaj was sentenced to three years of probation, conditioned upon completion of 50 hours of community service. They were also ordered to pay full restitution.
Deputy Attorneys General Thomas Clark and Jamie Picard tried the case and handled the sentencing 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.
According to the release, the state presented testimony and evidence at trial that Nikola and Majlinda Lulaj filed fraudulent applications following Superstorm Sandy 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. As a result, they received 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 release states that the couple falsely claimed in their applications that a home they own on Webster Avenue in Seaside Heights, which was damaged by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, was their primary residence at the time. In fact, their primary residence was in Dumont, N.J. and at the time of the storm, it was a vacation and rental property.
“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.”
The Attorney General’s Office has charged over 120 defendants with fraud related to Sandy relief programs. Most of the cases involve “primary residence fraud.”
The 120-plus defendants allegedly were responsible for diverting more than $8 million in relief funds.
The office is continuing its aggressive efforts to investigate fraud in Sandy relief programs, working jointly with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (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), the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Also assisting the taskforce is the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller, New Jersey Department of the Treasury Office of Criminal Investigation, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the nonprofit National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).