Prosecutor: Guttenberg couple charged with insurance fraud after May fire destroys home

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Two Guttenberg home owners have been charged with insurance fraud over a May residential fire that left left one woman with critical injuries, Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez announced.

67 70th Street in Guttenberg. Photo via Google Maps.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

On Wednesday, Jose Puma, 49, and Maria Puma, age 50, surrendered to members of the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office Public Integrity/Insurance Fraud Unit while accompanied by their attorney, Suarez said in a statement.

The Guttenberg residents were arrested without incident following an investigation into a fire that took place in a three-story residential building.

Jose Puma was charged with one count of insurance fraud and one count of violation of law intended to protect public health and safety, officials said. Maria Puma was hit with the same two charges.

They are scheduled to make a first appearance in Central Judicial Processing Court at 1:00 p.m. on August 5th.

On May 20th at approximately 6:15 p.m., a fire at 67 70th Street in Guttenberg inflicted
severe burns upon a female victim, 26, of Guttenberg, who remains in critical but stable
condition at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, authorities said.

The investigation by the Hudson County Regional Arson Task Force into the origin and cause of the fire has revealed that the origin of the fire was in one of the three illegal apartments located on the ground/basement floor of the house.

The cause of the fire remains undetermined.

A subsequent investigation by members of the Public Integrity/Insurance Fraud Unit revealed that Jose Puma made material misrepresentations on the insurance policy application for the property.

In that application, Jose Puma falsely indicated that only two families were living in the building and that the building was not being used for business purposes, authorities said.

Additionally, the investigation concluded that numerous construction and fire codes were
knowingly violated, resulting in the victim sustaining serious bodily injury.

These violations included a lack of smoke detectors in each apartment and inadequate means to escape in an emergency, police said.

Suarez credited members of the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office Public
Integrity/Insurance Fraud Unit with the investigation and arrest.

“We’re taking a tough stance on this: our code enforcement officials are doing inspections based on any tips and this is an obvious event that shows how serious things can be when houses are dangerously overloaded with too many occupants,” Mayor Wayne Zitt told HCV.