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JERSEY STATE POLICE
OFFICIAL NEWS RELEASE
STATE POLICE INVESTIGATE AND ARREST CAMDEN COUNTY MAN ON CHARGES RELATED TO HOMESTEAD REBATE PROGRAM FRAUD
TRENTON – Attorney General John J. Farmer, Jr. and Col. Carson J. Dunbar, Jr., Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, today announced the arrest of a Camden County man on criminal charges related to an extensive fraud involving the attempted theft of more than $812,000 from the New Jersey Homestead Rebate Program.
According to Attorney General Farmer, the State Police investigation got underway last November when representatives from the Division of Taxation contacted the State Police Insurance Fraud Unit to report the filing of large numbers of suspicious Homestead Rebate Program applications from the Camden City area - the Homestead Rebate Program is designed to provide property tax relief to New Jersey homeowners and renters.
"This type of fraud activity is not a ‘victimless' crime. It cheats legitimate and deserving homeowners and renters out of substantial rebate funds. It can not and will not be tolerated. Those who would seek to benefit from such abuses should know that law enforcement and taxation officials are committed to investigating and prosecuting such conduct,," said Attorney General Farmer.
The investigation, conducted by law enforcement officials from the State Police Insurance Fraud Unit, the Division of Taxation and the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, resulted in the arrest of Vincent Stewart, 34, 3736 Garfield Ave., Pennsauken. The arrest occurred on Jan. 19 on a downtown Camden street after undercover State Police detectives met with Stewart and purchased a fraudulently prepared Homestead Rebate application form. The defendant was charged with Conspiracy to Commit Theft and Tampering With Public Records. The matter will be presented to a State Grand Jury.
According to detectives assigned to the State Police Insurance Fraud Unit, auditors from the Division of Taxation determined that hundreds of suspect Homestead Rebate application forms from Camden City all contained similar descriptive information - information such as the same amount of rent paid for an apartment, the same amount of money earned by the applicant and that the applicants were all listed as either legally blind, disabled or over 65 years of age. As a result of the application form similarities, the Division of Taxation notified the State Police Insurance Fraud Unit and a joint investigation was established.
Utilizing various investigative procedures, State Police detectives identified Stewart as the principal suspect involved in preparing and submitting the fraudulent applications. It is alleged that Stewart, through word of mouth, would approach Camden City residents and explain that they were eligible to receive up to $550.00 per person just by signing a prepared application.
It is further alleged that Stewart would then convince residents to gather friends and relatives together at homes, churches and community locations and to host an "application" party where, for a $10 per person fee, he (Stewart) would fill out the Homestead Rebate Program applications. The citizens would then mail the completed applications to the Division of Taxation Homestead Rebate Program address in Trenton. Additionally, State Police detectives acting in an undercover capacity, purchased two fraudulently prepared Homestead Rebate applications from Stewart.
To date, auditors from the Division of Taxation's Office of Criminal Investigation have estimated that over 1,500 fraudulent applications totaling over $812,000 were submitted to the Homestead Rebate Program. As a result of the fraudulent activity, over $463,175 was disbursed to ineligible applicants. Additional fraudulent applications are expected to be uncovered. The Division of Taxation and the State Police are endeavoring to identify and recoup Homestead Rebate monies illegally obtained by Stewart's applicants.
The investigation was conducted by state troopers Mark J. Wilhelm, Michael A. Lake and Kevin F. O'Brien of the State Police Insurance Fraud Unit and DSG Jay Pennypacker of the Troop A Criminal Investigation Office. Additionally, Supervisory Auditor Robert Morris and Auditor Debra Lewaini of Taxation's Office of Criminal Investigations played key roles in the investigation.
The investigation is continuing and the defendants are presumed innocent until or unless proven guilty.