WYCKOFF, N.J. -- A Tenafly couple collected nearly $162,270 in taxpayer-funded Superstorm Sandy relief by claiming their damaged Jersey Shore home as their primary residence, state authorities charged.
The home that Charles Tuohy, 55, and his wife, Joanne Benzoni, 64, own on Lynn Ann Lane in Manahawkin that was damaged by the historic storm Superstorm Sandy is actually a vacation home, state Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino said.
By lying on applications, Tuohy and Benzoni received $2,270 from FEMA, a $10,000 RSP grant, and $150,000 in RREM grant funds, Porrino said.
Authorities charged them with theft by deception and unsworn falsification.
Also charged Thursday was Michael Avena of Wyckoff, who authorities said collected nearly $201,861 in taxpayer-funded Superstorm Sandy relief that he wasn't entitled to .
Since March 2014, the Attorney General’s Office has filed criminal charges against nearly 100 people accusing them of similar fraud -- including four charged on Thursday -- who collected a combined $6 million in relief funds that Porrino said they weren't entitled to.
“Charging 100 defendants in these relief-fraud cases is a sad milestone, in that it highlights how many people are willing, in the face of a historic disaster, to dishonestly exploit an offer of aid meant for those who were hardest hit,” the attorney general said.
“At the same time, we’re proud of our collaborative efforts, which have recovered millions of dollars and sent an unmistakable message that those who commit this fraud will face serious criminal charges, now and during any future disasters," he said.
“Stealing any type of public aid is reprehensible," added New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice Director Elie Honig, "but it’s especially egregious to steal relief funds in the context of a historic disaster, when every dollar is needed for recovery.”
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