TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal Monday, Jan. 7 announced that a former police officer was sentenced after being convicted in October of stealing $187,000 by filing fraudulent applications for federal relief funds related to Hurricane Sandy. His wife, who was convicted with him, was sentenced to probation and community service.
Ocean County Superior Court Judge James M. Blaney sentenced Nikola Lulaj, 45, of Seaside Heights, who forfeited his job as an officer with the Hoboken Police Department as a result of his conviction, to five years in state prison. His wife, Majlinda Lulaj, 32, was sentenced to three years of probation, conditioned upon completion of 50 hours of community service.
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 and 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 Nikola and Majlinda Lulaj filed fraudulent applications following Hurricane Sandy for FEMA assistance, a low-interest SBA disaster-relief loan, and state grants under the Homeowner Resettlement Program, the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program, and the Sandy Homeowner and Renter Assistance Program 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 the storm, was their primary residence at the time Sandy struck. In fact, their primary residence was in Dumon. 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.
“For 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,” Grewal said. “When disaster strikes, we cannot allow dishonest applicants to divert disaster relief funds from the intended recipients – namely, those victims whose primary homes were destroyed or damaged.”
Division of Criminal Justice Director Veronica Allende said the state has recovered more than $2 million by prosecuting similar crimes…”and have delivered a strong message that should deter this type of fraud during future disaster recovery efforts.”
The case was investigated for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial and Computer Crimes Bureau by Deputy Attorney General Thomas Clark and Detective Mark Byrnes along with special agents of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, HUD Office of Inspector General and SBA Office of Inspector General. The case was investigated and prosecuted under the supervision of Lt. Vincent Gaeta, Lt. David Nolan, Sgt. Fred Weidman, Deputy Bureau Chief Mark Kurzawa and Bureau Chief Julia S. Glass of the Division of Criminal Justice Financial and Computer Crimes Bureau.