When a natural disaster strikes, The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is there to help provide people who lost their homes and are suffering terribly. Generally, FEMA provides displaced individuals with financial support to help them get back on their feet and in their homes. Attempting to fool FEMA is dangerous and can be downright criminal. It is absolutely vital to follow their filing directions to the letter and to be as upfront with FEMA as possible.
What is FEMA Fraud?
FEMA fraud is both a federal crime and a crime in New Jersey. Federal FEMA fraud is considered defrauding the United States and a violation of 18 U.S.C. 371 and 18 U.S.C. 1040 (see United States v. Hebron, 684 F. 3d 554). In New Jersey, defrauding FEMA falls under the category of theft by deception (N.J.S.A. 2C:20-4). If you attempt to receive FEMA funds when you are not truly entitled to them, you could unwittingly be committing a serious crime.
For example, if you provide FEMA with a signed lease agreement and rental receipts that supposedly prove your “residence,” but you really lived at that location for just a few weeks and did not pay rent, you could be prosecuted for FEMA fraud (i.e. theft by deception). Similarly, if you give FEMA rental agreements or rental receipts indicating that you are living in a certain location, but you in fact are not living there or are not paying any rent there, you can be charged with FEMA fraud.
Any form of deceptive practice that allows you to receive FEMA funds—even if you were legally entitled to them—could lead to a charge for theft by deception. Moreover, lying or misrepresenting the facts in order to get funding can also be considered theft by deception. Lastly, if you are awarded FEMA funds to stay in a hotel or other living space and you continue to take that money even though your residence becomes habitable again, you could be charged with defrauding FEMA.
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Penalties and Fines
Remember, attempting to fool a federal agency is never a good idea and the consequences could be dire. Since defrauding FEMA is almost always charged as theft by deception in New Jersey, the penalties you face are akin to those for that specific crime. Essentially, you could be dealing with a third-degree crime. If convicted, you could face up to 3-5 years behind bars and incur a fine of up to $15,000. Aside from that, this particular crime will leave a stain on your criminal record that will make it exceptionally difficult for you to receive welfare or other forms of governmental assistance in the future. If charged federally, depending on how much money you fraudulently received, you could face a maximum fine of $1,000,000 and 10 years in federal prison.
Who Should I Contact?
If you or a loved one was charged with FEMA fraud in New Jersey (theft by deception), contact Adam H. Rosenblum of Rosenblum Law today. Mr. Rosenblum is a skilled criminal defense attorney who will defend your constitutional rights, fight to keep you out of jail, and do his best to have your criminal charges dismissed. E-mail or call him today at 888-815-3649.