- Acting Attorney General Anne Milgram and
Criminal Justice Director Gregory A. Paw
announced that a Union County woman has
pleaded guilty to stealing over $55,900
in bail bond monies.
According to Insurance Fraud Prosecutor
Greta Gooden Brown, Mercedes Lastra, 32,
of Elizabeth, pleaded guilty today before
Superior Court Judge Frederick P. DeVesa
in Middlesex County to a criminal accusation
that charged her with third-degree theft
by failure to make required disposition
of property received.
Lastra admitted that between September 2004
and January 2005, while employed as a licensed
bond agent for Blaze Bail Bonds in Perth
Amboy, she stole approximately $55,930 that
she received as premiums for bail bonds
for 15 criminal defendants. An investigation
determined that Lastra issued phony bail
bonds for the defendants by taking blank
bail bonds and completing them as if they
were paid for and properly issued.
On March 11, 2005, investigators from the
Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor
arrested Lastra and charged her with theft
by unlawful taking. Bail was set at $50,000,
which she paid.
Investigator Robert Stemmer and Supervising
Deputy Attorney General Lewis J. Korngut
were assigned to the investigation. Korngut
prosecuted the case. Crimes of the third
degree carry sentences of up to five years
in state prison and a criminal fine of up
to $15,000. Lastra may also face civil insurance
Brown noted that some important cases have
started with anonymous tips. People who
are concerned about insurance cheating and
have information about a fraud can report
it anonymously by calling the toll-free
or visiting the Web at www.NJInsuranceFraud.org.
State regulations permit an award to be
paid to an eligible person who provides
information that leads to an arrest, prosecution
and conviction for insurance fraud.
Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor was
established by the Automobile Insurance
Cost Reduction Act of 1998. The office is
the centralized state agency that investigates
and prosecutes both civil and criminal insurance
fraud, as well as Medicaid fraud.