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2 from Ocean County among 5 new Sandy relief fraud defendants

Two Ocean Countyans are among five new defendants accused of scamming Superstorm Sandy relief money, in charges filed by the office of New Jersey Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino.

Frank Russo, 83, of Brick Township, and Carlos Paul Terzian, 54, of Manahawkin, were cited May 24, along with Jennifer Altman, 43, and Patrick Yannotta, 28, both of Hoboken, and Jennifer Casey, 33, of Upper Saddle River. The arrests bring the number of defendants identified since March 2014 to 91.

“We charge that these defendants stole from disaster relief programs and by extension from the victims who were hardest hit by the storm,” Porrino said in a prepared statement.. “We’ll continue to charge every cheat we identify who diverted funds from these recovery programs and from victims in need.”

Russo, Altman, Yannotta and Casey face second-degree charges of theft by deception and fourth-degree counts of unsworn falsificaiton. Terzian is charged with third-degree theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsifcation.

Convictions for second-degree charges can mean prison terms of five to 10 years and fines up to $150,000. Third-degree charges are punishable by three to five years in prison and fines up to $15,000 on conviction. Fourth-degree crimes carry potential sentences of up to 18 months and $10,000 fines.

The defendants are accused of submitting false information to obtain funds, variously, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Homeowner Resettlement Program (RSP) and Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program, and the Sandy Homeowner and Renter Assistance Program (SHRAP)

Russo is accused of obtaining $190,813 for a house under his ownership, which he claimed as his primary residence. Investigators contend that his primary residence was in Brick at the time of the storm, and that the Toms River dwelling was unoccupied.

Terzian allegedly listed a Sandy-damaged house on Joshua Drive in Manahawkin as his primary residence, and received $30,021. Investigators believe that he lives elsewhere in Stafford and collected for a secondary, unoccupied house.

Altman is alleged to have collected $183,220 in relief for a house that she claimed as her primary residence, on Maria Drive in Toms River. Investigators said that she lived in Hoboken at the time of the Superstorm.

Yannotta is accused of receiving $182,400 for a house on Coolidge Avenue in Seaside Heights that he co-owns with a relative. Investigators said that he listed it as his primary residence, but actually rented it.

Casey allegedly claimed a house on Cove Point Road in Toms River as her primary residence, and collected $162,012 in relief, while living in Upper Saddle River. Investigators said that the Toms River house was unoccupied.

Russo is represented by Somerville attorney A. Peter DeMarco, Jr. Terzian has retained attorney Thomas McCoy of Manahawkin. Altman’s lawyer is Brooklyn-based attorney Joseph Indusi. Yannotta is represented by attorney Michael Critchley of Roseland. Casey’s case is led by attorney John Conte of Montvale.

Charges are accusations. Defendants are presumed innocent unless, and until, found guilty in a court of law.

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