OAG NJ reports –

TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today announced that the Attorney General’s Office and its state and federal partners have charged four additional defendants during the past three months with filing fraudulent applications for federal relief funds related to Superstorm Sandy, bringing the total number of defendants charged by the office in these cases to 130 since March 2014.

“Any fraud against public assistance programs is deplorable, but these thefts were especially egregious because they diverted funds intended for victims left homeless by one of the most devastating storms in New Jersey history,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We have recovered over $4 million through these prosecutions and we also have sent a strong message that should deter this type of fraud during future disaster relief efforts.”

The 130 people charged by the Attorney General’s Office were allegedly responsible for diverting nearly $9 million in relief funds. The office is continuing its aggressive efforts to investigate fraud in Sandy relief programs, working jointly with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA), and the Offices of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Also assisting the taskforce is the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller, New Jersey Department of the Treasury Office of Criminal Investigation, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the non-profit National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

The defendants are alleged, in most cases, to have filed fraudulent applications for relief funds offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In many cases, they also applied for funds from a Sandy relief program funded by HUD, low-interest disaster loans from the SBA, or funds from HHS. The HUD funds are administered in New Jersey by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs and the HHS funds are administered by the New Jersey Department of Human Services.

The following four defendants were charged on various dates, as indicated, by complaint-summons:

  • Connian Scollon, 56, of Little Egg Harbor Township, N.J., was charged on April 22, 2019. Scollon allegedly filed fraudulent applications following Superstorm Sandy for state grants under the Homeowner Resettlement Program (RSP) and Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program. As a result, she allegedly received a total of $167,831 in relief funds to which she was not entitled. It is alleged that Scollon falsely claimed in her applications that a home she owns on East Shrewsbury Drive in Little Egg Harbor Township, N.J., which was damaged by Superstorm Sandy, was her primary residence at the time Sandy struck. It is alleged that, in fact, her primary residence at the time of the storm was in Hatboro, Pa., and the house in Little Egg Harbor Township was a secondary residence. As a result of the alleged false applications, Scollon received a $10,000 RSP grant and $157,831 in RREM grant funds. She is charged with second-degree theft by deception.
  • Robert Girardo, 68, of Ocean City, N.J., was charged yesterday, June 26, 2019. Girardo allegedly filed fraudulent applications following Superstorm Sandy for state grants under the Homeowner Resettlement Program (RSP) and the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program. As a result, he allegedly received a total of $130,347 in relief funds to which he was not entitled. It is alleged that Girardo falsely claimed in his applications that a residential property that he owned on East West Jersey Avenue in Pleasantville, N.J., which was damaged by Superstorm Sandy, was his primary residence when Sandy struck. It is alleged that, in fact, his primary residence when the storm hit was in Ocean City and the property in Pleasantville was a rental property. Girardo received a $10,000 RSP grant and $120,347 in RREM grant funds. He is charged with second-degree theft by deception.
  • Rosemary Flannery, 58, of New York, N.Y., was charged on June 17, 2019. Flannery allegedly filed fraudulent applications following Superstorm Sandy for FEMA assistance and state grants under the Homeowner Resettlement Program (RSP) and the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program. As a result, she allegedly received $124,151 in relief funds to which she was not entitled. Flannery allegedly falsely claimed in her application that a property she owns on Central Avenue in Highlands, N.J., which was damaged by Superstorm Sandy, was her primary residence when Sandy struck. It is alleged that, in fact, at the time of the storm, her primary residence was in Manhattan and the property in Highlands was a secondary residence. As a result of the alleged false applications, Flannery received $2,270 from FEMA, a $10,000 RSP grant, and $111,881 in RREM grant funds. She is charged with second-degree theft by deception.
  • Cynthia Hildebrandt, 59, of Wharton, N.J., was charged on May 9, 2019. Hildebrandt allegedly 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). As a result, she allegedly received $80,358 in relief funds to which she was not entitled. Hildebrandt allegedly falsely claimed in her applications that a property she owns on Jennie Drive in Manahawkin, N.J., which was damaged by Superstorm Sandy, was her primary residence when Sandy struck. It is alleged that, in fact, at the time of the storm, her primary residence was in Wharton and the property in Manahawkin was a summer/weekend home. As a result of the alleged false applications, Hildebrandt received $2,820 from FEMA, a $10,000 RSP grant, $14,000 in SBA loan proceeds, $50,681 in RREM grant funds, and $2,857 in SHRAP funds. Hildebrandt is charged with second-degree theft by deception.

“Through this historic anti-fraud program, we have filed criminal charges against 130 defendants who allegedly were responsible for fraudulently diverting a total of nearly $9 million in relief funds after Superstorm Sandy,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “This collaborative state and federal initiative will undoubtedly serve as a model for other jurisdictions that face these issues in future disaster relief efforts.”

The new cases were investigated by detectives of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and special agents and inspectors of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, HUD Office of Inspector General, SBA Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, and U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The National Insurance Crime Bureau assisted. Deputy Attorneys General Supriya Prasad, Peter Gallagher, and William N. Conlow are prosecuting the new defendants for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Mark Kurzawa and Bureau Chief Julia S. Glass. Sgt. Fred Weidman conducted and coordinated the investigations for the Division of Criminal Justice, with others, including Detective Terrence Buie, Detective Lindsay Rajeski, and Special Civil Investigators Sheila Brown and Victoria Vreeland.

Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

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. In addition, rental assistance grants are available for impacted homeowners. FEMA allocates up to $31,900 per applicant for federal disasters. To qualify for FEMA relief, applicants must affirm that the damaged property was their primary residence at the time of the storm.

In addition to the FEMA relief funds, HUD allocated $16 billion in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for storm victims on the East Coast. New Jersey received $2.3 billion in CDBG funds for housing-related programs, including $215 million that was allocated for the Homeowner Resettlement Program (RSP) and $1.1 billion that was allocated for the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program. Under RSP, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs is disbursing grants of $10,000 to encourage homeowners affected by Sandy to remain in the nine counties most seriously impacted by the storm: Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean and Union counties. The RREM Program, which is the state’s largest housing recovery program, provides grants to Sandy-impacted homeowners to cover rebuilding costs up to $150,000 that are not funded by insurance, FEMA, SBA loans, or other sources.

The Small Business Administration provides low-interest disaster loans to homeowners, renters, businesses of all sizes, and most private nonprofit organizations. SBA disaster loans can be used to repair or replace real estate, personal property, machinery and equipment, and inventory and business assets damaged or destroyed in a declared disaster. Renters and homeowners may borrow up to $40,000 to repair or replace clothing, furniture, cars or appliances damaged or destroyed in the disaster. Homeowners may apply for a loan of up to $200,000 to replace or repair their primary residence to its pre-disaster condition. Secondary homes or vacation properties are not eligible for these loans, but qualified rental properties may be eligible for assistance under the business loan program.

The Disaster Relief Act provided HHS approximately $760 million in funding for Sandy victims. The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) received approximately $577 million in Sandy funding through three grant programs, including the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) program, which received nearly $475 million to help five states (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maryland). New Jersey received over $226 million for a wide range of social services directly related to the disaster. New Jersey used SSBG funds to develop the Sandy Homeowner/Renter Assistance Program (SHRAP) to assist individuals/families with expenses for housing and other related needs.


Defense Attorneys: 
For Scollon: W. Curtis Dowell, Esq., Brant Beach, N.J.
For Girardo: Undetermined.
For Flannery: Charles F. Clark Jr., Esq., Clark, Clark & Noonan, LLC, Wall Township, N.J.
For Hildebrandt: A. Peter DeMarco Jr., Esq., DeMarco & Gagliano Law, Somerville, N.J.