Don’t Blow It

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The National Hurricane Center reports that Hurricane Sandy formed in the central Caribbean on October 22, 2012 and tracked north through Jamaica, eastern Cuba and the Bahamas before heading to the United States and the mid-Atlantic coast around October 28th. The storm packed a punch, causing an estimated $75 billion in damages across 24 states. Even though nearly seven years have passed since the devastating hurricane made landfall, the government is still going after fraudsters who took advantage of state and federal relief funds. Today, we take a look at a Seaside Heights, New Jersey man and his wife who both committed disaster fraud by submitting false claims. (They rebuilt their house using disaster relief funds from multiple state and federal agencies.)

At the time when Hurricane Sandy blew through Seaside Heights, the couple lived in a house in Dumont that was owned by a relative. Later, the man and wife moved permanently to a home in Seaside Heights, which was damaged by a storm prior to Hurricane Sandy. (The Seaside Heights residence was a vacation home that the couple rented out. It was not their permanent residence.)

Following Hurricane Sandy, the couple filed fraudulent aid applications to rebuild their damaged vacation home in Seaside Heights. They collected $187,074 from FEMA, the U.S. Small Business Administration, New Jersey’s Homeowner Resettlement Program, the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) program and the Sandy Homeowner and Renter Assistance Program. (That’s a really nice chunk of change.)

A jury convicted the 45-year-old man from Seaside Heights and his 32-year-old wife of disaster fraud. The man, a former Hoboken police officer, was sentenced to five years in prison and forced to give up his job. His wife was lucky and didn’t receive a prison term, but instead she will serve three years of probation following the completion of 50 hours of community service. The couple was also ordered to pay full restitution. (It’s a good guess that they will probably have to sell their home to pay back the $187,074.)

The 2019 Hurricane Season starts on June 1, only a few weeks away. Hopefully, you won’t have to worry about a devastating disaster this year, but just in case, don’t blow it and find yourself in trouble like today’s couple. Here’s how FEMA provides assistance:

  1. FEMA will assist individuals and families who have lost their homes as a result of a presidentially-declared disaster.
  2. For small businesses impacted by a presidentially-declared disaster, FEMA partners with the Small Business Administration to offer low interest loans for business damages.
  3. FEMA does NOT offer assistance for a secondary home. Federal guidelines allow housing assistance only when a primary residence is impacted.
  4. FEMA offers disaster assistance for other disaster-related expenses including medical and dental, child care, funeral and burial, essential household items, moving and storage, vehicle and some clean-up items.

For more information, check out FEMA’s website under Individual Disaster Assistance.

Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on an article entitled, “Former Hoboken cop from Seaside Heights gets 5 years in prison for Sandy fraud,” posted on on January 9, 2019.  

A Seaside Heights man, who is also a former Hoboken police officer, was handed a five-year prison term Monday for filing false superstorm Sandy relief applications to obtain $187,000 in aid money he wasn’t eligible to receive, authorities said.

Nikola Lulaj, 45, of Seaside Heights, was convicted in October, along with his wife, 32-year-old Majlinda Lulaj, after prosecutors accused the couple of falsely claiming that their primary residence was in Seaside Heights at the time of the storm to secure more funding from state and federal relief programs.

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Larry Benson, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances, LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Larry Benson is responsible for developing strategic partnerships and solutions for the government vertical. His expertise focuses on how government programs are defrauded by criminal groups, and the approaches necessary to prevent them from succeeding.

Mr. Benson has 30 years of experience in sales and business development. Before joining LexisNexis® Risk Solutions, he spent 12 years founding and managing two software technology startups. During the 1990s he spent 10 years as a Regional Director helping to grow a New England-based technology company from 300 employees to 7,000. He started his career with Martin Marietta Aerospace working on laser guided weapons and day/night vision systems.

A sought-after speaker and accomplished writer, Mr. Benson is the principal author of “Fraud of the Day,” a website dedicated to educating government officials about how criminals are defrauding government programs. He has co-authored WTF? Where’s the Fraud? How to Unmask and Stop Identity Fraud’s Drain on Our Government, and Data Personified, How Fraud is Changing the Meaning of Identity.

Benson holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Albright College, and earned two graduate degrees – a Master of Business Administration from Florida Institute of Technology, and a Master of Science in Engineering from Lehigh University.