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For Immediate Release:
For Further Information:
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July 15, 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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Former Local Administrator of NJ Home Energy Assistance Program Sentenced to Prison for Defrauding the Program
Another Former Local Administrator Enters Guilty Plea for Separate Thefts

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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 was sentenced to state prison today for defrauding the program of more than $20,000 by filing false applications to obtain benefits. In addition, a second former local administrator of the program pleaded guilty today to stealing over $40,000 in program benefits through the submission of fraudulent benefit applications.

According to Director Taylor, Denise Nicole Johnson, 37, of Paulsboro, was sentenced today to four years in state prison by Superior Court Judge M. Christine Allen-Jackson in Gloucester County. Johnson pleaded guilty on Jan. 18 to second-degree official misconduct, admitting that she defrauded the HEA program of $22,980 by filing nine false applications to obtain benefits. She filed two of the applications by entering false information into the program’s computer system while employed as an HEA aide in the Paulsboro Office of Tri-County Community Action, a nonprofit contracted by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to administer the HEA program in Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties.

Johnson was ordered to pay full restitution of $22,980 to the DCA and is permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey. She was indicted last year as a result of ongoing investigations by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau, conducted with assistance from the DCA.

Also today, Lynette Bagby, 40, of Paulsboro, pleaded guilty to a pre-indictment accusation charging her with third-degree theft by deception before Judge Allen-Jackson. Bagby admitted that, while working as an HEA aide and later an HEA supervisor for Tri-County from 2001 to 2008, she processed fraudulent applications in the names of relatives, acquaintances and others, which generated $45,946 in fraudulent benefits for herself and others. The state will recommend that she be sentenced to 364 days in jail and a term of probation. She must pay full restitution and will be permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey. She is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept 23.

“Four defendants have now been sentenced to prison as a result of our investigations into fraud in this assistance program,” said Attorney General Dow. “We are determined to root out this type of corruption, which drains public funding that is intended to provide vital services to those in need.”

“By resolutely pursuing every lead in these investigations, we are continuing to prosecute, convict and incarcerate defendants for stealing from this public assistance program,” said Director Taylor.

As a result of the investigations by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau, two other women who were local administrators of the HEA program and a Paulsboro-based heating oil supplier were previously sentenced to state prison. In addition, charges are pending against a man who served as a local HEA administrator in Atlantic County.

Deputy Attorney General David M. Fritch and Deputy Attorney General Robert Czepiel have prosecuted Johnson and the other HEA cases. They handled today’s sentencing and took Bagby’s plea. The investigations have been conducted and coordinated for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau by Lt. Keith Lerner, Sgt. Robert Feriozzi Jr., Detective Andrea Salvatini, Detective Anthony J. Luyber, Deputy Chief of Detectives Neal Cohen, Analyst Alison Callery and Deputy Attorneys General Fritch and Czepiel.

Johnson was indicted along with a boyfriend, Anthony Lamont Taylor, 35, of Paulsboro, who received $2,648 on one application for which he submitted false information. He pleaded guilty on June 30 to third-degree misapplication of entrusted property and was sentenced on July 8 to three years of probation, which may be followed, at the judge’s discretion, by 180 days in the county jail.

The investigation revealed that, in addition to benefits in the form of credits applied to utility bills, these false applications generated 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 and Bagby exchanged and cashed these benefit checks through third parties for cash or checks payable solely to them.

Some of the HEA checks were exchanged for cash or company checks from Harris Fuel Oil of Paulsboro. Thomas J. Harris, 68, 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, 56, 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 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, Bagby, Campbell and Victor cases involved both programs. The Harris case involved the LIHEAP program.

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