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July 20, 10

NEWS / Former Local Manager of State Home Energy Assistance Program Sentenced to State Prison for Defraudin


Second local program administrator pleads guilty to official misconduct

TRENTON – Attorney General Paula T. Dow and Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor announced that a former local administrator of the New Jersey Home Energy Assistance (HEA) Program was sentenced to prison today for stealing from the program. A second former local administrator pleaded guilty today to official misconduct in a separate case and also faces prison.

“These defendants had a duty to honestly administer the heating assistance program, but they instead devised schemes to defraud it,” said Attorney General Dow. “These cases send a strong message that we will aggressively prosecute those who abuse public positions for personal gain.”

“Through prosecutions such as these, we are working to deter the type of fraud that drives up the cost of public assistance programs,” said Director Taylor.

According to Director Taylor, Constance Campbell, 24, of Chester, Pa., was sentenced to five years in state prison by Superior Court Judge M. Christine Allen-Jackson in Gloucester County. Campbell pleaded guilty on Feb. 24 to second-degree official misconduct, a charge contained in an Aug. 17, 2009 state grand jury indictment.

Campbell admitted that she used her former position as an HEA manager for Tri-County Community Action Partnership to process false HEA applications for herself and five family members who were also indicted. Tri-County is a nonprofit contracted by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs to administer the HEA program in Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties. Campbell was an office manager/HEA manager for Tri-County’s Salem County and Gloucester County offices.

Campbell must pay full restitution to the Department of Community Affairs, including $4,089 for fraudulent applications she filed for her own benefit, and $19,921 for fraudulent applications she filed to deliver financial benefits to the five family members. The five family members have pleaded guilty and are responsible with her for paying back the funds they received. Campbell was required to forfeit her job and is permanently excluded from public employment in the state.

Also today, a second former local HEA administrator, Nicole Victor, 37, of Paulsboro, pleaded guilty to second-degree official misconduct before Judge Allen-Jackson for defrauding the state program of $11,705 by filing false applications to obtain benefits for herself. She was charged in a May 12, 2010 state grand jury indictment. The state will also recommend that Victor be sentenced to five years in state prison. She will be required to pay $11,705 in restitution and will be permanently excluded from public employment in New Jersey.

Victor was formerly an HEA administrator in the Paulsboro Office of Tri-County Community Action. In pleading guilty, Victor admitted that, while employed by Tri-County as an HEA administrator, she used her position to file fictitious HEA applications to fraudulently generate benefits for herself. She admitted that she fraudulently obtained $11,705 by filing three false HEA applications and taking the assistance funds issued on the applications for her own benefit.

Victor worked for Tri-County from September 2002 through May 2008. She was hired as an HEA aide, and became an HEA supervisor in 2004. The official misconduct occurred between June 2005 and May 2008.

Judge Allen-Jackson scheduled sentencing for Victor for Oct. 15. Deputy Attorneys General David M. Fritch and Robert Czepiel prosecuted the cases for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau and represented the state at today’s sentencing and plea hearings. The charges resulted from investigations by the Division of Criminal Justice, conducted with assistance from the Department of Community Affairs.

In the Campbell case, family members received a total of $24,010 in benefits for which they were not eligible, including approximately $15,000 in HEA checks intended for heating oil purchases. They traded the checks for cash from a Paulsboro-based heating oil supplier, Thomas J. Harris, 66, of Woolwich, owner and sole proprietor of Harris Fuel Oil.

On June 17, Harris was sentenced to four years in state prison by Judge Allen-Jackson. He pleaded guilty on Aug. 10, 2009 to second-degree charges of financial facilitation of criminal activity (money laundering) and misapplication of entrusted property and property of government. Harris admitted he defrauded the HEA Program of $399,812 by offering low-income beneficiaries cash for their state-issued assistance checks instead of fuel to heat their homes. Harris paid $247,700.50 to the beneficiaries in exchange for assistance checks in amounts totaling $399,812, which he deposited into Harris Fuel Oil accounts. As a result, Harris retained over $152,000 in HEA funds for himself. He was ordered to pay $152,100 in restitution to the Department of Community Affairs and is permanently barred from doing business with the State of New Jersey, pursuant to a consent order executed by the court.

The five relatives of Campbell admitted assisting her in the scheme to defraud the state program. A brother, Dennis Campbell, 38 of Philadelphia, was sentenced on April 9 to up to 364 days in the county jail as a condition of two years of probation by Judge Allen-Jackson, and his wife, Hollyann Allen, 38, was sentenced to three years of probation. Patsy Campbell, 30, of Chester, Pa., a sister of Constance and Dennis, was sentenced on April 9 to three years of probation. Two other sisters pleaded guilty to third-degree misapplication of entrusted property or property of government. They were admitted into the Pre-Trial Intervention program on Feb. 26. All of the relatives must pay restitution for their shares of the theft.

All of the investigations were conducted and coordinated for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau by Lt. Keith Lerner, Sgt. Robert Ferriozzi, Detective Andrea Salvatini, Detective Anthony Luyber, Deputy Chief of Detectives Neal Cohen, Analyst Alison Callery and Deputy Attorneys General Fritch and Czepiel.

The HEA Program is administered by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs and local agencies contracted by DCA. The New Jersey HEA Program encompasses two separate programs, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and Universal Service Fund Program (USF). The LIHEAP program provides direct financial assistance to beneficiaries in the form of payments to utility companies and to fuel vendors to help low-income households meet the cost of home heating and medically necessary cooling. The USF program assists such households by providing credits against their natural gas and electric bills. The Harris case involved the LIHEAP program. The Campbell and Victor cases involved both programs.

Constance Campbell was an office manager/HEA manager for Tri-County’s Salem County and Gloucester County offices. Her duties included processing HEA benefit applications. From January 2007 to June 2009, she created fraudulent accounts for herself and each of the five family members, none of whom were eligible for benefits. Four, including Constance, did not even reside in New Jersey. Some accounts used the family member’s name, but others used the name of another person or a fictitious name to hide the beneficiary’s true identity and to allow these individuals to collect financial benefits from multiple fraudulent benefit applications. Certain applications also deliberately understated household income or included additional fictitious dependents to increase the amount of benefits paid out on the application.

Where a false name was used, the family member’s name would be listed on the account as the authorized representative of the household, so checks would be payable to the family member. The four defendants who did not reside in New Jersey used the address of a New Jersey resident family member or Post Office box in New Jersey to receive the benefit checks. The sisters who lived in New Jersey received USF benefits in addition to LIHEAP checks.

http://www.nj.gov/oag/newsreleases10/pr20100719b.html

 




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