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November 5, 09

NEWS / Newark Woman Sentenced for Stealing from State Homelessness Prevention Program

TRENTON Ė Attorney General Anne Milgram announced that a Newark woman was sentenced today for stealing funds from the Homelessness Prevention Program administered by the state Department of Community Affairs.

According to Criminal Justice Director Deborah L. Gramiccioni, Joana Pereira, 27, of Newark, formerly known as Joana Rodrigues, was sentenced to two years of probation, conditioned on her serving 364 days in the county jail, by Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier in Mercer County. She pleaded guilty in February 2007 to theft by deception.

In pleading guilty, Pereira, a landlord, admitted she submitted four fraudulent applications for grants totaling $14,963 under the Homelessness Prevention Program. She submitted them with one of her tenants, Tashime Mitchell, who shared the proceeds with her. Three applications listed Pereira as the landlord and listed either Mitchell, a relative of Mitchell, or a fictitious name as the tenant. The fourth listed Pereiraís boyfriend, Vitor Pedreiras, as the landlord and falsely listed a relative of his as the tenant.

On Oct. 29, Pedreiras, 32, of Hillside, was also sentenced by Judge Billmeier to two years of probation, conditioned on him serving 364 days in the county jail. He pleaded guilty to theft by deception in August for assisting Pereira in submitting the fraudulent applications. He was required to forfeit his job as a Hillside police officer and is permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey. Pereira and Pedreiras were ordered to pay restitution to the Department of Community Affairs of $14,963.

The false applications were submitted to Robin Wheeler-Hicks, 50, of Elizabeth, who was formerly the Union County senior field representative for the Department of Community Affairs with responsibility for processing Homelessness Prevention Program cases in the county. Wheeler-Hicks pleaded guilty to bribery and theft by deception in March 2006 for stealing more than $800,000 from the program. She has not been sentenced yet.

The Homelessness Prevention Program provides grants to eligible individuals and families who, through no fault of their own, are in jeopardy of becoming homeless. It provides money to pay rent to keep a family in a current home, and provides applicants with up to two months rent and security deposit for a new residence if they have been forced out of their home.

Mitchell, 36, of Irvington, and Renita Livingston, 36, of Hillside, previously pleaded guilty to assisting Wheeler-Hicks in submitting numerous false Homelessness Prevention Program applications. Mitchell pleaded guilty to bribery and was sentenced on Nov. 3, 2006 to five years in prison. Livingston pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was sentenced on Dec. 15, 2006 to three years in prison. Mitchell was ordered to pay $29,000 in restitution, and Livingston, $10,500.

The charges resulted from an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice and New Jersey State Police. Nine other defendants have pleaded guilty, including two former DCA employees who received probation and four corporations. All of the defendants were required to pay restitution to DCA.

The Department of Community Affairs alerted the Division of Criminal Justice when program officials uncovered questionable applications and transactions involving the Homelessness Prevention Program in Union County. The DCA provided administrative resources and investigative assistance to the Division of Criminal Justice and State Police throughout the investigation.

Deputy Attorney General Anthony Picione, Deputy Chief of the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau, and Deputy Attorney General David Fritch prosecuted the case and represented the state at the sentencing. The investigation was conducted for the DCJ Corruption Bureau by Sgt. Joseph Caloiaro, Sgt. Rob Feriozzi, Detective Anthony Luyber, Detective Kiersten Pentony, Civil Investigator Wayne Cummings, and Analyst Alison Callery. It was conducted for the New Jersey State Police by Detective Sgt. Dustin Lesnever, Detective Sgt. Gerald Nachurski and Detective Sgt. Gregory Shawaryn.


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