A Hoboken police officer has been charged with fraudulently receiving $187,074 in Superstorm Sandy aid after authorities discovered his Seaside Heights home was not his primary residence, Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy announced.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Nikola Lulaj, 42, of Seaside Heights, formerly of Dumont, has been charged with second-degree theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsification, authorities said.
Lulaj allegedly filed fraudulent applications following Superstorm Sandy for FEMA assistance, a low-interest Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster-relief loan, state grants under the Homeowner Resettlement Program (RSP), the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program and also the Sandy Homeowner and Renter Assistance Program (SHRAP) – funded by the New Jersey Department of Human Services – officials said.
As a result, he received a total of 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 AG’s Office said today.
It is alleged that Lulaj falsely claimed in his applications for 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.
However, authorities believe that his primary residence at the time was in Dumont. Lulaj has since moved to his house in Seaside Heights, but at the time of the storm, it was allegedly a vacation/rental property.
Hoboken Police Chief Kenneth Ferrante said Lulaj was suspended without pay once confirming the charges with the AG’s Office earlier today.
According to public records, Lulaj has been a Hoboken police officer since August 1, 1999 and earned a salary of $98,896 last year.
Ironically, Lulaj received an Honorable Service Award from the department back in June 2013 for helping arrest two convenience store looters who tried to take advantage of the blackout and flooding that occurred in the Mile Square City during Superstorm Sandy (h/t The Jersey Journal).
He was one of five people charged with filing false Superstorm Sandy applications today, with Lulaj allegedly obtaining more aid than the other four charged combined.
Since March 2014, the AG’s Office has filed criminal charges against 62 people for allegedly engaging in this type of fraud.
On Oct. 29, 2012, Superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey, resulting in an unprecedented level of damage. Almost immediately, the affected areas were declared federal disaster areas, making residents eligible for FEMA relief. FEMA grants are provided to repair damaged homes and replace personal property.
Hoboken was one of the most heavily impacted areas in northern New Jersey, prompting the Rebuild by Design project.
â€œEach 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,â€ Lougy said in a statement.
â€œItâ€™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.â€