An Ocean County jury convicted a police officer and his wife of stealing $187,000 by filing fraudulent applications for federal relief funds related to Superstorm Sandy, New Jersey authorities announced.
Nikola Lulaj, 45, of Seaside Heights, an officer with the Hoboken Police Department, and his wife, Majlinda Lulaj, 32, were found guilty Thursday of second-degree conspiracy, second-degree theft by deception, and six counts of fourth-degree unsworn falsification.
They filed fraudulent applications for FEMA assistance, a low-interest SBA disaster-relief loan, and state grants, according to prosecutors.
The jury found that the couple falsely claimed in their applications that their storm-damaged home on Webster Avenue in Seaside Heights was their primary residence, while their primary residence was in Dumont, Bergen County.
Prosecutors say the couple has since moved to their Seaside Heights home, which was a vacation/rental property when Sandy struck.
They face sentencing in January. Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
“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,” said Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. “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.”
Lulaj must now forfeit his employment as a police officer, authorities said.