A Hoboken police officer and his wife were convicted at trial of stealing $187,000 in fraudulent Superstorm Sandy aid, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced.Â
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Nikola Lulaj, 45, of Seaside Heights, (formerly of Dumont), and his wife, Majlinda Lulaj, 32, were found guilty by an Ocean County jury of charges of second-degree conspiracy, second-degree theft by deception, and six counts of fourth-degree unsworn falsification, Grewal said in a statement.
As a result of the verdict, Lulaj must forfeit his employment as a police officer. The verdict followed a trial before Superior Court Judge James M. Blaney. The defendants will be sentenced in January at a date to be determined.
Nikola Lulaj was charged with the crimes back in June 2016.
Back in June 2013, he received an Honorable Service Award from the department 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.
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.
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€
Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
The state Attorney Generalâ€™s Office has charged over 120 defendants with fraud related to Sandy relief programs. Most of the cases involve â€œprimary residence fraud,” the type committed by Nikola and Majlinda Lulaj.
Deputy Attorneys General Thomas Clark and Jamie Picard tried the case 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.