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Alleged Superstorm FEMA fraudster risks decades in prison

Accused of defrauding FEMA for more than $250,000 in Superstorm relief, a Pennsylvania man risks spending the rest of his life in prison if convicted and given the maximum sentence for all charges filed today by federal prosecutors.

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Nicholas Ochs, 54, of Ambler, PA, is charged with one count of disaster benefits fraud, five counts of mail fraud and one count of theft of government funds, according to the office of Acting New Jersey U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick.

The disaster-benefits fraud and mail fraud charges each carry possible prison terms as high as 30 years. Each mail fraud charge also contain possible fines of $1,000,000. The disaster-benefits fraud count carries a possible $250,000 fine. Conviction for theft of government funds might add 10 years and another $250,000.

According to information contained in the case, Ochs’s mother lived an an Ocean City house at the time Superstorm Sandy hit in October 2012. The following January, Ochs filed for rental and personal property damage aid through FEMA, acting on his mother’s behalf, and claiming that the storm left the house uninhabitable.

The claim was borne out by a FEMA-authorized inspector. Ochs, in the role of power of attorney during inspection, signed an application on his mother’s behalf, verifying the veracity of details in it. His signature also served as acknowledgement of his responsibility to return any disaster money if insurance benefits covered the loss.

Citing ample flood-insurance coverage, FEMA rejected the application. Authorities said that Ochs responded with fabricated documents to FEMA, indicating that insurors rejected his mother’s claim.

Ochs is also accused of claiming that his mother rented another living space on the same block as her house, of failing to disclose that she owned the property into which she moved and paid no rent, and of submitting false lease agreements and rent receipts from January through December 2013.

Investigators also allege that in Feburary 2013, Ochs sought transportation aid from FEMA, claiming erroneously that his mother’s 1985 Mercedes-Benz was damaged in the hurricane.

FEMA paid $21,574 for rental aid and home repairs between February and December 2013, which Ochs allegedly used for personal expenses.

An insuror paid $231,160 to Ochs’s mother for storm damage. Wells Fargo held $169,518 in escrow. Ochs is accused of submitting invoices that exaggerated the figures for the cost of work performed, for which the bank released the escrow funds.

The escrow amount was utlimately paid by FEMA through the National Flood Insurance Program, leaving the agency on the hook for $252,734, authorities said..

Investigators said that Ochs deposited the money into bank accounts under his control, using the money for personal expenses.

Assistant U.S Attorney Jason M. Richardson is presenting the government’s case. Ochs’s defense attorney is Thomas Young of Camden.

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

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