– Acting Attorney General Paula T.
Dow and Criminal Justice Director Stephen
J. Taylor announced that a former Department
of Community Affairs senior field representative
was sentenced to state prison today for
stealing more than $800,000 from a program
that assists people threatened with homelessness.
to Director Taylor, Robin Wheeler-Hicks,
50, of Elizabeth, was sentenced to seven
years in state prison by Superior Court
Judge Robert Billmeier in Mercer County.
Wheeler-Hicks pleaded guilty in March 2006
to charges of bribery and theft by deception
for stealing from the Homelessness Prevention
Program, which is administered by the Department
of Community Affairs (DCA). Wheeler-Hicks
was sentenced to seven years in prison on
each charge, with the sentences to run concurrently.
pleading guilty, Wheeler-Hicks, a former
DCA-Union County senior field representative,
admitted submitting 428 false applications
to the Homelessness Prevention Program for
grants totaling more than $800,000. She
was ordered to pay $830,901 in restitution
to the Department of Community Affairs and
is permanently barred from public employment
in New Jersey.
was indicted in December 2005, along with
Tashime Mitchell, 36, of Irvington, and
Renita Livingston, 36, of Hillside. Wheeler-Hicks
was responsible for processing Homelessness
Prevention Program cases in Union County.
The program provides grants to eligible
individuals and families who, through no
fault of their own, are at risk of becoming
homeless. It provides 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 are
forced out of their home.
and Livingston pleaded guilty to assisting
Wheeler-Hicks in submitting numerous false
Homelessness Prevention Program applications.
Mitchell was sentenced on Nov. 3, 2006 to
five years in prison, and Livingston was
sentenced on Dec. 15, 2006 to three years
in prison. Mitchell was ordered to pay $29,000
in restitution, and Livingston, $10,500.
investigation determined that Wheeler-Hicks
used her official position to obtain pertinent
information regarding HPP candidates, which
she used to create and submit fictitious
HPP claims for payment to applicant landlords.
Mitchell, Livingston and other co-defendants
assisted her by providing information for
the false applications. The fraudulent applications
reported that the applicants were temporarily
homeless due to residential fires. To support
the claims, the applications included fictitious
fire reports purportedly from the Elizabeth
other defendants were sentenced recently
in the case. Joana Pereira, 27, of Newark,
formerly known as Joana Rodrigues, was sentenced
by Judge Billmeier on Nov. 5 to two years
of probation, conditioned upon her serving
364 days in the county jail. Pereira, a
landlord, pleaded guilty in 2007 to theft
by deception for submitting four fraudulent
applications for grants totaling $14,963
under the Homelessness Prevention Program.
Her boyfriend, Vitor Pedreiras, 32, of Hillside,
pleaded guilty to assisting her. He was
required to forfeit his job as a Hillside
police officer and was sentenced on Oct.
29 to two years of probation, conditioned
upon him serving 364 days in county jail.
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.
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
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.
Division of Criminal Justice has established
a toll-free Corruption Tipline for the public
to confidentially report corruption, financial
crime and other illegal activities: 1-866-TIPS-4CJ.
The public also can confidentially report
suspected wrongdoing online at www.njdcj.org.