TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that a man who worked at a state-operated housing recovery center in Newark after Superstorm Sandy has been indicted on charges that he demanded thousands of dollars in bribes and fictitious fees from storm victims, fraudulently representing to the victims that he could expedite and/or increase the federal relief funds they received.

The Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau obtained a four-count state grand jury indictment on Friday, July 20, charging Ronald Golden, 43, of Norristown, Pa., with bribery in official and political matters (2nd degree), theft by deception (3rd degree), attempted theft by deception (3rd degree), and identity theft (4th degree). The indictment is the result of an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office of Inspector General, assisted by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA).

Golden was hired in June 2013 as a housing adviser who processed applications for federal relief funds at a housing recovery center in Newark. The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs set up housing recovery centers, including the one in Newark, and hired contract employees for the centers through two outside employment agencies. Golden was hired through those employment agencies.

From May 2014 through October 2014, when he was fired for reasons unrelated to this case, Golden allegedly solicited and received a total of $5,770 in bribes and fraudulent fees from two victims, and attempted to solicit an additional bribe of $3,000 from a third victim, promising to expedite their receipt of federal aid and/or increase the amount of aid the victims received under two relief programs funded by HUD and administered in New Jersey by the DCA: the Homeowner Resettlement Program and the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program. In reality, Golden had no authority whatsoever to approve grant awards, increase grant amounts, or expedite the application process.

In one instance, Golden allegedly falsely claimed he was a lawyer and obtained a $200 “retainer fee” from a woman, offering to represent her in a lawsuit against her insurance company over a Sandy-related claim. Golden allegedly received most of the bribes and fees in cash, but on two occasions received either a check or prepaid debit cards. Golden is charged with identity theft because he allegedly used his father’s date of birth and Social Security number on his application for the job at the housing recovery center in order to evade disclosure of certain information during a background check.

“Golden was hired to assist victims devastated by Superstorm Sandy, but we allege that he instead callously used his position to mislead victims and steal money that they needed to recover,” said Attorney General Grewal. “For an aid worker to exploit vulnerable disaster victims and prey upon their desire to rebuild their lives as quickly as possible, as alleged here, is absolutely unconscionable.”

“Through our historic collaboration with the Department of Community Affairs, HUD, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, other state and federal agencies, and the county prosecutors in our Sandy Fraud Task Force, we have charged over 220 defendants with Sandy-related fraud and have recovered well over $2 million,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “In addition to ensuring that alleged bad actors like Golden face justice, these prosecutions send a powerful deterrent message that should prevent fraud during future disaster relief efforts.”

“We have zero tolerance for individuals who utilize federal housing programs for personal illicit gains,” said Christina Scaringi, Special Agent in Charge for HUD’s Office of Inspector General, Northeast Region. “This case demonstrates our steadfast resolve to work across the full span of the law enforcement community to prosecute those who engage in these fraudulent acts.”

Deputy Attorney General Janet Bosi presented the case to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau. Detective Mark Byrnes was the lead detective for the Division of Criminal Justice, and former Deputy Attorney General Jacalyn Estrada also was assigned to the investigation. Attorney General Grewal commended the members of the Division of Criminal Justice, as well as the special agents who conducted the investigation for HUD’s Office of Inspector General, under the leadership of Christina Scaringi, Special Agent in Charge for HUD’s Office of Inspector General, Northeast Region. Attorney General Grewal also thanked the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs for their valuable assistance throughout the investigation.

Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Peter E. Warshaw, who assigned the case to Essex County, where Golden will be ordered to appear in court at a later date for arraignment.

Attorney General Grewal and Director Allende noted that the Division of Criminal Justice has a toll-free Corruption Tipline 1-866-TIPS-4CJ for the public to report corruption, financial crime and other illegal activities confidentially. The public can also log on to the Division webpage at www.njdcj.org to report suspected wrongdoing confidentially.

The Attorney General’s Office has an Anti-Corruption Reward Program that offers a reward of up to $25,000 for tips from the public leading to a conviction for a crime involving public corruption. Information is posted on the Attorney General’s website at: www.nj.gov/oag/corruption/reward.html.