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For Immediate Release:
For Further Information:
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January 18, 2011

Office of The Attorney General
- Paula T. Dow, Attorney General
Division of Criminal Justice
- Stephen J. Taylor, Director

Media Inquiries-
Peter Aseltine
609-292-4791
Citizen Inquiries-
609-292-4925

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Third Former Local Administrator of NJ Home Energy Assistance Program Pleads Guilty to Defrauding State Program

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TRENTON – Attorney General Paula T. Dow and Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor announced that a Paulsboro woman who formerly worked as a local administrator of the New Jersey Home Energy Assistance (HEA) Program has pleaded guilty to defrauding the program of $22,980 by filing false applications to obtain benefits.

According to Director Taylor, Denise Nicole Johnson, 36, of Paulsboro, pleaded guilty to second-degree official misconduct before Superior Court Judge M. Christine Allen-Jackson in Gloucester County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that she be sentenced to four years in state prison. She must pay full restitution of $22,980 to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs and will be permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey.

Johnson was charged in a July 28, 2010 state grand jury indictment stemming from ongoing investigations by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau, conducted with assistance from the Department of Community Affairs (DCA). As a result of the investigations, two other women who were local administrators of the HEA Program previously pleaded guilty to official misconduct and were sentenced to prison. A heating oil supplier was also sentenced to prison.

“It is unconscionable that individuals entrusted with administering this program, which provides funding to heat the homes of low-income families, would instead enrich themselves at the expense of taxpayers,” said Attorney General Dow. “This is the third local administrator who is facing prison as a result of our ongoing investigations.”

“These cases should send a loud and clear message that we have zero tolerance for officials who engage in fraud involving public assistance programs,” said Director Taylor.

Deputy Attorney General Christine Hoffman, Chief of the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau, appeared in court to take the guilty plea today. Deputy Attorneys General David M. Fritch and Robert Czepiel have prosecuted Johnson and the other HEA cases. Judge Allen-Jackson scheduled sentencing for Johnson for July 15.

From February 2005 through September 2006, Johnson was employed as an HEA aide in the Paulsboro Office of Tri-County Community Action, a nonprofit contracted by the DCA to administer the HEA program in Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties.

In pleading guilty, she admitted that between March 2006 and August 2009, she received approximately $22,905 on nine false applications that she filed, including two fraudulent applications that she created by entering false information into the DCA benefits system while still employed by Tri-County Community Action.

Johnson was indicted along with a boyfriend, Anthony Lamont Taylor, 35, of Paulsboro, who allegedly received $2,648 on one application for which he submitted false information. The charges are pending against Taylor. A second man named in the indictment was admitted by the court into the Pre-Trial Intervention program in November.

The investigation revealed that Johnson accepted two-party HEA benefit checks that were payable only to individuals and their home heating suppliers. The checks were to be used for the sole purpose of procuring home heating fuel and could be deposited only into the account of a home heating supplier. However, Johnson exchanged and cashed the benefit checks through third parties for cash or checks payable solely to her.

Some of the HEA checks were exchanged for cash or company checks from Harris Fuel Oil of Paulsboro. Thomas J. Harris, 66, of Woolwich, the owner Harris Fuel Oil, pleaded guilty to money laundering and misapplication of entrusted property and property of government as a result of the state investigations. He was sentenced on June 17, 2010 to four years in prison. He admitted he defrauded the HEA Program of $400,000 by offering low-income beneficiaries cash for their state-issued assistance checks instead of fuel oil. He was ordered to pay full restitution.

In related cases, Nicole Victor, 38, of Paulsboro, was sentenced on Jan. 7, 2011 to five years in prison and ordered to pay restitution of $11,705 in connection with false applications she filed. Victor pleaded guilty to second-degree official misconduct. She had been an HEA administrator in the Paulsboro office of Tri-County Community Action. Constance Campbell, 25, of Chester, Pa., a former HEA manager for Tri-County’s Salem and Gloucester County offices, was sentenced on July 19, 2010 to five years in prison for official misconduct and was ordered to pay full restitution. She processed false HEA applications for herself and five family members, by which they obtained $24,010 in benefits. Charges are pending against Marvin Laws, 55, of Atlantic City, who allegedly stole $9,062 through false applications while employed as an HEA benefits manager by Atlantic Human Resources, a nonprofit contracted by DCA to administer the program in Atlantic County.

The investigations have been conducted and coordinated for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau by Lt. Keith Lerner, Sgt. Robert Ferriozzi, Detective Andrea Salvatini, Detective Anthony Luyber, Deputy Chief of Detectives Neal Cohen, Analyst Alison Callery and Deputy Attorneys General Fritch and Czepiel.

The HEA Program is administered by the Department of Community Affairs and local agencies contracted by the DCA. The HEA Program encompasses two separate programs, the federally funded Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the state-funded Universal Service Fund Program (USF). The LIHEAP program provides direct financial assistance to beneficiaries in the form of payments to utility companies and to fuel vendors to help low-income households meet the cost of home heating and medically necessary cooling. The USF program assists such households by providing credits against their natural gas and electric bills. The Johnson, Campbell and Victor cases involved both programs. The Harris case involved the LIHEAP program.

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