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For Immediate Release:  
For Further Information Contact:
December 8, 2005

Office of The Attorney General
- Peter C. Harvey, Attorney General
Division of Criminal Justice
- Vaughn L. McKoy, Director

 

Paul Loriquet
609-292-4791
Jennifer Monaghan
609-292-6055

 

Attorney General’s Division of Criminal Justice Charges Former State Employee with Defrauding Homelessness Program
Indictment Charges Former DCA Field Representative With Attempting to Bilk $83,000 From State Program...
Three Individuals and Four Private Corporations Plead Guilty to Theft and Official Misconduct Charges

TRENTON — Attorney General Peter C. Harvey today announced that a former Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Senior Field Representative, along with two other North Jersey residents, have been charged in a 14-Count State Grand Jury indictment with devising and participating in a scheme to defraud the DCA out of more than $83,000 in public monies earmarked for a housing program that prevents individuals and families from becoming homeless.

“With this indictment, we are continuing our investigation and prosecution of fraud and bribery in a state-operated program geared to help individuals and families stay in their homes and off the streets,” said Attorney General Harvey. “The allegations under investigation include obtaining public resources through fraudulent means, covering-up the illegal conduct, and tampering with evidence and witnesses to thwart the Division of Criminal Justice investigation. This indictment follows the guilty pleas of these persons who are cooperating in our investigation of housing fraud in the Department of Community Affairs.”

Attorney General Harvey noted that the Department of Community Affairs reported the suspected criminal activity to the Division of Criminal Justice when program officials uncovered questionable applications and related transactions involving the Union County Homelessness Prevention Program (HPP). The DCA provided administrative resources and investigative assistance to the Division of Criminal Justice throughout the investigation.

"The Homelessness Program helps families in desperate financial straits stay in their homes while they regain economic stability," said DCA Acting Commissioner Charles A. Richman. "It is disgraceful that there are people who find ways to profit from the misfortune of others. Since discovering and reporting these offenses to the Attorney General, we have implemented measures to secure the program from abuse."

According to Vaughn L. McKoy, Director, Division of Criminal Justice, the State Grand Jury indictment charged Robin Wheeler-Hicks (a former DCA-Union County Senior Field Representative), 46, Park Place, Elizabeth, Union County, Tashime Mitchell, a/k/a Tashima Mitchell, 32, Chestnut Avenue, Irvington, Essex County, and Renita Livingston, 32, Avy Street, Hillside, Union County, with conspiracy, bribery in official and political matters, official misconduct, theft by deception, misapplication of entrusted property, tampering with public records or information, falsifying or tampering with records, perjury, false swearing, tampering with witnesses, hindering apprehension or prosecution and tampering with or fabricating physical evidence. (See indictment for specific charges lodged against each defendant.)

The State Grand Jury indictment alleges that Wheeler-Hicks, Mitchell, and Livingston conspired to defraud the DCA out of more than $83,000 by falsifying dozens of applications for financial benefits made available through the Homelessness Prevention Program. The program provides grants to eligible individuals and families who, through no fault of their own, are in jeopardy of becoming homeless. The program provides money to pay rent to keep a family in a current home and provides applicants with initial rent and a security deposit for a new residence if they have been evicted. In order to obtain benefits, an applicant must demonstrate income sufficient to maintain a residence after the grant is exhausted. Applicants must also provide background information on household members, income, and other financial information.

The investigation determined that Wheeler-Hicks, as the Senior Field Representative assigned to the HPP in Union County, had responsibility for processing HPP cases in that county. It is alleged that Wheeler-Hicks used her official position to obtain pertinent information regarding HPP candidates and that she allegedly created more than 23 fictitious HPP claims with a total value of $83,596 and submitted the false applications to Trenton for payment to purported applicant landlords. The indictment charges that the fraudulent applications reported that the applicant was temporarily homeless due to a fire and, to support the claim, the applications attached a fire report from the Elizabeth Fire Department. Subsequent investigation determined that the Elizabeth Fire Department reports were fictitious. As a result of the investigation, the Department of Community Affairs removed Wheeler-Hicks from her position as a Field Representative in August, 2004.

The indictment also charges that Wheeler-Hicks, aided by Mitchell and Livingston, along with other accomplices, including program applicants and alleged landlords, falsified HPP applications by indicating that applicants were fire victims. It is alleged that Mitchell and Livingston provided other false information (e.g. employment information, address and landlord information, expense information, etc.) in certain applications. It is also alleged that Wheeler-Hicks accepted money from the accomplices in exchange for processing HPP applications. The indictment also charges that Mitchell and Livingston manufactured evidence, attempted to influence the testimony of another witness. The indictment alleges that Mitchell perjured herself before the State Grand Jury.

On Sept. 28, the Division of Criminal Justice - Special Prosecutions Bureau filed criminal Accusations, and obtained guilty pleas, from three individuals and four privately-held corporations identified as co-conspirators in the criminal fraud. The individual defendants, charged with theft by deception, were identified as:

  • Carletta Smith, 31, Smithwold Road, Somerset, Somerset County. Occupation: Certified Public Accountant, self-employed landlord, and the owner-of-record for the corporations charged in the criminal Accusation(s);
  • Monica Smith, 28, Main Street, Spotswood, Middlesex County;
  • Lisa Smith Foster, 34, N. American Drive, Howell, Monmouth County.
    Occupation: Nurse.

Each of the corporations named in the Accusation were owned by defendant Carletta Smith. The corporate defendants each pleaded guilty to a charge of official misconduct. They are identified as:

  • C&C Financial Group LLC, 16 South Ave., Cranford, Union County;
  • CCB Investments LLC, 16 South Ave., Cranford, Union County;
  • Jonah Investment Group LLC, 16 South Ave., Cranford, Union County;
  • 96 Eaton Place LLC, 16 South Ave., Cranford, Union County.

The Accusations and guilty pleas, entered before Mercer County Superior Court Judge Maria Marinari Sypek, require the defendants to pay full restitution of $33,859 to the DCA. At the time of the plea, Lisa Smith Foster was admitted into PTI. Carletta Smith will forfeit her CPA license and she and the corporate defendants will forfeit $101,577. Monica Smith will receive probation. Sentencing for the individual and corporate defendants is scheduled for April, 2006.

The State Grand Jury indictment was handed-up to Mercer County Superior Court Judge Linda R. Feinberg, the Assignment Judge in charge of the State Grand Jury, on Dec. 7. The case will be assigned to the Mercer County Superior Court for trial. The defendants will be issued complaint-summonses to appear in Court for arraignment and bail.

The prosecution is being coordinated by Deputy Attorney General Anthony Picione assigned to the Division of Criminal Justice - Special Prosecutions Bureau. The investigation was conducted by State Investigator’s Joseph Caloiaro, Rob Feriozzi, Kiersten Pentony, New Jersey State Police detectives Dustin Lesnever, Gerald Nachurski and Gregory Shawaryn and Analyst Alison Callery assigned to the Division of Criminal Justice - Special Prosecutions Bureau. The investigation was referred to the Division of Criminal Justice - Special Prosecutions Bureau by the Department of Community Affairs.

“This investigation uncovered a fraudulent scheme headed by a corrupt state employee that endeavored to steal thousands of dollars in public dollars from the Homelessness Prevention Program. The investigation remains ongoing and will uncover all of the persons who participated in the alleged fraud,” said Director McKoy.

A copy of the indictment, Accusation(s), plea agreement(s), and Waiver of Indictment is available via the Division of Criminal Justice Web site at: www.njdcj.org.

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