A former Hoboken police officer was sentenced to five years in prison, while his wife received three years probation, for stealing $187,000 in fraudulent Superstorm Sandy aid, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced.Â
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Nikola Lulaj, 45, of Seaside Heights, formerly of Dumont and who forfeited his job as a Hoboken police officer as a result of his conviction â€“ was sentenced today to five years in state prison by Ocean County Superior Court Judge James M. Blaney.
His wife, Majlinda Lulaj, 32, was also sentenced to three years of probation, conditioned upon completion of 50 hours of community service. Additionally, both defendants were ordered to pay full restitution.
The husband and wife were found guilty on Oct. 25 by an Ocean County jury of charges of second-degree conspiracy, second-degree theft by deception, and six counts of fourth-degree unsworn falsification.
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.
The state presented testimony and evidence at trial that the couple 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 a total of approximately $187,074 in relief funds.
The couple falsely claimed in their applications that a home they own on Webster Avenue in Seaside Heights, which was damaged by Superstorm Sandy, was their primary residence at the time Sandy struck.
However,, their primary residence was in Dumont. They have since moved to the house in Seaside Heights, but at the time of the storm, it was a vacation/rental property.
As a result of the alleged fraudulent applications, Nikola and Majlinda Lulaj received $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.
â€œFor 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,â€ Grewal said in a statement.
â€œWhen disaster strikes, we cannot allow dishonest applicants to divert disaster relief funds from the intended recipients â€“ namely, those victims whose primary homes were destroyed or damaged.â€
The Attorney Generalâ€™s Office has charged over 120 defendants with fraud related to Sandy relief programs. Most of the cases involve â€œprimary residence fraudâ€ of the type committed by Nikola and Majlinda Lulaj.