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27 Jun 2016

First Sandy devastated her. Then the state did.

Sue Marticek, executive director of the Ocean County Long-Term Recovery Group, calls for investigation of FEMA. Iphone video by Jean Mikle

Two years after awarding grants for Laurie Fox’s storm-damaged Lacey home, the government wants its money back. The reason is nuts.

After her Lacey home got pummeled by superstorm Sandy, Laurie Fox received two relief grants totaling nearly $14,000 from New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs.

Her nightmare finally seemed to be ending.

In fact, it was just beginning.

In 2015, two years after awarding the money, the state demanded it back. The reason: She failed to prove it was her primary address.

HELPING SANDY VICTIMS: Springsteen lends song to Sandy fundraising

So Fox gathered documentation, including four years’ worth of homestead rebates and notarized affidavits from several neighbors, but an administrative judge ruled against her earlier this month. Now she’s been devastated twice: First by Sandy, then by the system.

“The whole thing is just sick,” Fox said. “You wonder, how many other people did they do this to?”

‘The smallest technicality’

The Asbury Park Press reviewed documents related to the case. Here is the quick summary:

  • Fox bought the three-bedroom ranch in the Forked River section of Lacey in 2002 and used it as a rental property while she lived in the Bergen County town of Little Ferry with her friend Cliff Palifrone.
  • In 2008 she moved to the Lacey home to care for her father, who was battling cancer. After he died that year, Fox stayed there with her two pit bulls until storm damage forced them to move back to Little Ferry in October of 2012.
  • Fox, who is 50, has a learning disability and relies on the 55-year-old Palifrone to handle much of her finances. Some of her bills go to the Lacey address, some go to Little Ferry. Because of her reliance on Palifrone, she did not change her driver’s license from Little Ferry to Lacey prior to the storm. That became Exhibit A in the DCA’s quest for a refund, even though the DCA was aware of the discrepancy when awarding Fox the resettlement and RREM grants.
27 Jun 2016

Governor’s Conference on Volunteerism and Service

Save the Date NJ GOV Volunteerism Conference 2016

20 Jun 2016

Summer is back — except for some Sandy victims | Di Ionno

The door to Laurie Fox’s house won’t open.

Maybe it’s damp mildew inside that caused the door to expand in the heat. Maybe it’s the sagging roof.

Either way, it’s a metaphor for the post-Sandy mess that has kept Fox out of her house for 43 months, with no prospect of returning.

Fox’s home is in Forked River Beach, a section of Lacey Township. And, like thousands of others, she continues to live somewhere else. For many Jersey Shore residents “the disaster after the disaster” – shorthand for the Sandy recovery – continues as another summer approaches.

Over the last few weekends, Gov. Christie Christie did his annual Shore tour, walking the boards at Seaside Heights and Point Pleasant and Asbury Park.

“It’s to remind folks how great the Jersey Shore is and how great we’ve recovered from Sandy …,” said Christie said in downtown Ocean Grove a few days ago.

“In threeandahalf years – with the exception of a couple of thousands residents across the entire Shore who have not moved back into their homes – businesses are back, almost all of the residents are back in their homes,” he said. “That’s a pretty extraordinary recovery and I want to make sure people know about that and to feel free to come down here …”

By “people,” he means tourists and by “down here,” he means the beachfront towns. By those measures, Christie is right.

In the Belmars and Point Pleasants and Seasides of the Shore, the boardwalks are new, the pavilions are open and the beaches have been expanded.

But the Sandy recovery is really a tale of two Shores.

The 127-mile tourism stretch from Sandy Hook to Cape May is open for business. The rental market is healthy, boardwalk rides are spinning and you again have to wait in line for an ice cream cone.

I think it’s a conspiracy to drive out people like me so the developers can take over.” — Laurie Fox, Sandy victim
19 Jun 2016

The Jersey Shore is losing year-round residents by the thousands


Empty shore boardwalk.JPG
The Seaside boardwalk in the winter. Without summer residents, the New Jersey shore population has been steadily declining because of Sandy and economic difficulties. (Alex Remnick | NJ Advance Media for (Alex Remnick)

As the Jersey Shore swells in population from tourists this summer, something is still missing — the full-time residents it has lost in the past 10 years.

While New Jersey increased in population by nearly 3 percent from 2005 to 2014, the average town along the coast experienced a 9 percent decline, a NJ Advance Media review of Census data found. That shift likely reflects major issues in Sandy recovery and the changing economic landscape of Shore towns.

In some towns, the losses are particularly stark. Sea Isle City lost 38 percent of its population in the 10 years. Beach Haven lost 36 percent.

Larger towns with significant inland populations may not make the top 10, but still suffered significant losses. Toms River, for example, bled nearly 3,800 residents over the last decade, though most of those losses were likely near the Shore.

The population in New Jersey has tended to increase in urban areas and decrease in rural areas over the past decade. But a closer review of the areas in Shore counties — Atlantic, Cape May, Monmouth and Ocean — reveals that towns along the coast are losing their residents.

Shore residents are experiencing the results of this change.

Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher said that enrollment in schools there have shrunk from 18,000 students to 16,500.

John Ducey, the mayor of Brick, also noted a drop in school population. He attributed the change to vacation homeowners pushing out full-time residents.

But he also said Sandy’s traumatic effect was a factor.

“People move out because they didn’t want to deal with a second Sandy, or they couldn’t get insurance or FEMA [assistance],” he said.


07 Jun 2016

Contractor charged with over $75K in Sandy theft

“TOMS RIVER – A family that was victimized when superstorm Sandy destroyed their Long Beach Island home in 2012 was preyed upon again when a Toms River contractor took more than $75,000 for repairs that weren’t completed, according to a grand jury indictment.

Robert J. Rieche, 71, of Toms River was charged in a recent indictment with theft from the estate of a 72-year-old woman whose home was destroyed in the epic storm on Oct. 29, 2012.

READ: 7 more charged with Sandy fraud

Greta S. Purgavie died in 2009, years before superstorm Sandy ravaged her home in Ship Bottom, said Martin Anton, a supervising assistant Ocean County prosecutor.

Her son, Charles Purgavie Jr., executor of his mother’s estate, hired Rieche in early 2013 to gut and renovate the house so that his sister could live in it, Anton said.

Purgavie paid Rieche about $131,000 to do the work, but Rieche performed very little of it, Anton said.

“Purgavie lived in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, so he didn’t really see the progress of the work,’’ Anton said.

READ: Poor health means no jail for Sandy fraudster

Rieche had removed insulation, copper piping and the back door and steps from the home, scraped for mold and started doing electrical work and painting and installation of drywall and trim, Anton said.

But the contractor allegedly diverted more than $75,000 of the money that Purgavie paid him,  Anton said.

Anton alleged that Rieche instead used some of the money for a down payment on a home in his wife’s name and diverted more of it to other projects. Some of the money was used to purchase flooring and cabinets, but no floors or cabinets were ever installed in the Purgavie family home, the assistant prosecutor said.

WATCH: Avoid hiring a crooked contractor

“It doesn’t make any sense that any of these expenditures had anything to do with this project,’’ Anton said. “They couldn’t be related to the project because they were for things that were never installed.’’

In addition, the investigation by Detective James Conroy of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office revealed that Rieche used some of the funds to write checks to his wife and daughter, Anton said.

The indictment alleges that Purgavie gave the money to Rieche under a contract that specified the exact uses for the funds, but said he instead used it for his own purposes.

The theft occurred between Jan. 27, 2013 and Jan. 8, 2014, the indictment said.

READ: Brick woman: I beat grandma to death

The theft Rieche is accused of is a second-degree crime that carries a term of imprisonment between five and 10 years upon a conviction.

Rieche is free on $10,000 bail, which he posted on Aug. 26, 2015, following his arrest, according to the indictment.

He will face an arraignment on the charge within the next several weeks.

Kathleen Hopkins: 732-643-4202;”

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05 Jun 2016

Millions of Tax Dollars Lost in Sandy Fraud- Mark Di Ionno

“The money came and the money went, and nobody was watching.

Now, it’s a police problem.

That is the abridged version of the hurricane-related contractor fraud that has left thousands of homeowners stuck in the “disaster after the disaster” known as the Sandy recovery.

No place is it worse than sprawling Ocean County, where the storm left the most damage over the largest area.

“The government wanted to get recovery money into the hands of the people who were devastated as quickly as possible,” said Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato. “Unfortunately, there are people out there taking advantage of other people’s misery. They were victimized a second time.”

Coronato’s office has already secured 49 indictments involving Sandy-related fraud, and there are another 50 active investigations. Several small cases were previously adjudicated through restitution or the pretrial intervention, Coronato said, but the bigger cases are now being lined up for trials or pleas.

And while those numbers don’t seem staggering, the contractors are alleged to each have victimized an average of four to five homeowners. Several are accused of defrauding 20 to 30 clients. When you do the math, that’s thousands of people left holding the bag – a bag of empty promises and emptied of cash.

That’s just in Ocean County – it doesn’t even include another hundred or so cases in that are being handled by local police in the county.

Contractors under investigation Ocean County have allegedly walked away with over $5 million.”

MORERecent Mark Di Ionno columns

“We only take the cases that are multi-jurisdictional or if the fraud exceeds $75,000,” said Sgt. Mark Malinowski, who heads the county prosecutor’s office economic crimes unit, where cops with business degrees do the painstaking forensic accounting to build cases against people who made the recovery money disappear.

In short, the county only goes after the serial crooks. The small-time complaints get dealt with locally.

And the cases keep coming.

“Every time there is a new round of (recovery) funding, we get more complaints,” Malinowski said. “This isn’t going away anytime soon.”

The county has six investigators in the economic crimes unit and all have business or accounting degrees. They’ve all passed the Certified Fraud Examiners test – a 500-question marathon on how to detect slipshod financing and uncover shell-game bank accounts. There is also a required, yearly 20-hour continuing education program.

“It’s all about the education,” Coronato said. “This helps us track down drug money and financial schemes.”

But 50 percent of the unit’s work is now Sandy-related, Malinowski said. After fielding complaints, the detectives interview the homeowners and then the paper chase is on. The necessary act of discovering, subpoenaing and obtaining contractor bank records takes months, especially since many operate several LLCs.

Malinowski estimates the indicted contractors and those under investigation, have allegedly walked away with over $5 million.

Ocean County’s 15-mile barrier island, which stretches from Point Pleasant Beach to Island Beach State Park, provided the storm’s most unforgettable images. The Seaside Heights roller coaster in the ocean. The cedar-sided Mantoloking beach house in the bay. Ortley Beach homes scattered like Monopoly pieces.

But along the western front of the Barnegat Bay – and those uncounted miles of lagoons and bay inlets – the damage, while not as photogenic, was equally devastating.

Of the 40,500 homes rendered uninhabitable by the storm statewide, about half were in Ocean County. (The often-repeated number of 346,000 homes damaged by the storm is based on all insurance claims, major and minor.)

Towns that front the bay and beach rolled up staggering numbers of destroyed homes: Toms River (898), Brick (744). But towns with bay-only shorelines also were hit hard: Lacey (652), Ocean (499), Egg Harbor (349) and Stafford (307) were all swamped by the tidal surge in the bay.

The next surge was home repair contractors from across the state and the country, riding the waves of available money.

First, it was quick insurance payouts, or cashed-in investments or savings that homeowners used to get back home.

Then, it was the $2 billion in state and federal grants and loans to repair and elevate homes — and those are tax dollars — and that money keeps on coming. That’s what Malinowski means when he says every new round of financing brings new cases.

The state’s Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) program has disbursed $945,833,994 to date. Recovery funds for multifamily and rental units total $151,391,198, and the $10,000 resettlement grants total $202,572,814 to date. The money keeps coming and the fraud keeps following.

In most cases, the homeowner receives a sizable check to get work started. And that’s where the problems begin.

“We have safeguards in place, but we can’t watch every dollar,” said Lisa Ryan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs, which has handled the Sandy recovery.

“If a homeowner believes they have been defrauded by a contractor, they should immediately file a complaint with the NJ Division of Consumer Affairs,” she said. The consumer affairs number is (973) 504-6200 and the website is

Ryan said the state has held several homeowner seminars on how to avoid fraud and has a webpage dedicated to it at

But despite the warnings, people with hot cash in hand – and desperate to get back home – are bait in a shark tank.

“The checks are made out to the homeowner,” said Bill Scharfenberg, the Ocean County first assistant prosecutor handling the fraud cases. “They deposit the money in their accounts and are free to disburse it the way they want. They believe the contractors are bonded and state-approved. Some are, some are not.”

Coronato and Scharfenberg said some of the fraud is purposeful and some is not.

“We have guys who come in with low bids and run out of money,” Coronato said. “They take (money) from one job to finish another. Pretty soon, they can’t catch up.”

But, Scharfenberg added, “We’ve seen some money going into their lifestyles … new cars … vacations.”

Mary Lou Mickiewicz, of South Amboy, handed over $117,000 in RREM money to a contractor last year because she was already worn down from the process of filing insurance claims, dealing with FEMA paperwork and moving several times.

“He said he would take care of everything for me, all the paperwork, all the taxes, everything. So I trusted him,” she said.

She lives in Middlesex, but her case is being handled in Ocean County because the contractor is under investigation there, too, for disappearing on people such as Patty LaCourt of Lavalette.

“He talked a good game,” said LaCourt, who gave the same builder $110,000 to finish a job already started by another contractor who LaCourt said “wrecked my house.”

Joseph Ready, whose home in Union Beach is still unfinished, said his state-approved contractor kept asking for more to complete the job.

“What do you do? They said they ran out of money,” said Ready, whose $130,000 grant is gone. “So I gave them more. All I wanted was to get back home.”

Mark Di Ionno may be reached at Follow The Star-Ledger on Twitter @StarLedger and find us on Facebook.” 

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30 May 2016

Sandy is not over!

13102874_655078321308360_7798207268510438153_n “Oh, Sandy is STILL a thing?” “Isn’t recovery over…it’s been more than three years…” Everyone involved in the Sandy recovery process has heard these phrases casually uttered by our community members, friends or even family. Unfortunately, the majority of our country believes that Superstorm Sandy is nothing more than a distant memory. In fact, awareness about the struggles of survivors faded with the news cycle and made it challenging to help the thousands affected by the storm.

It is our goal to reignite widespread interest in Sandy recovery and highlight the continuing needs of our community. We encourage you to speak to the people in your life and remind them that Sandy is very much a current problem. Education is the key to lasting change and we believe all our followers have the power to enact that change!

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27 May 2016

FEMA to overhaul flood insurance program after Sandy complaints


WASHINGTON — The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Monday said it would make changes to the flood insurance program following revelations that the private companies that handle claims have been shortchanging Hurricane Sandy homeowners.

The agency said it would take control of the appeals process, as it has done with the Sandy homeowners who felt they were lowballed by their insurers, and would have the power to review the legal fees and arguments used by the private companies when they are sued for denying claims.

Currently, the companies basically have carte blanche when it comes to their legal expenses, which are picked up by taxpayers.

“We need ensure that you have a process to get a fair resolution,”  said Roy Wright, FEMA’s deputy associate administrator for insurance and mitigation.

In addition, FEMA proposed changing the rules governing the flood insurance program to make it easier for the agency to renegotiate its arrangements with the private companies that handle claims. The current rules date to the 1980s and were last updated in 1999.

“There were plenty of problems we came across that we were under the constraints of the existing regulations,” Wright said. “This gives us the flexibility to address the needs of policyholders and to ensure that we’re getting the greatest value from the companies.”

Is FEMA still shortchanging Hurricane Sandy homeowners?

Is FEMA still shortchanging Hurricane Sandy homeowners?

Rep. Tom MacArthur wants a House committee to investigate following charges leveled by FEMA subcontractors.

FEMA’s actions come after the agency had been criticized by New Jersey lawmakers for failing to ensure that Sandy victims were properly compensated for their losses. Insurance companies or their engineering firms reportedly adjusted inspection reports to avoid paying full damage claims.

In response to those reports, FEMA agreed to reopen the claims process for almost 142,000 Sandy homeowners. To date, more than $58 million in additional funds have been paid to Sandy homeowners who asked the agency to reconsider their claims.

Even now, there are questions as to whether the Sandy victims are being properly compensated. Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-3rd Dist.) last month released affidavits from three former employees of a FEMA subcontractor claiming that they were told to use a formula based on a structure’s square footage and its construction to decide how much money a homeowner was entitled to, not review actual damage reports.

In a separate announcement, the agency agreed that homeowners facing financial hardship who want to appeal their extra payments can get their initial award while waiting to see if they will receive any additional money. Currently, they would not get any money until the entire appeals process is completed.

“This should not be a game of ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ where Sandy victims are forced to choose between their initial offer and what’s behind door No. 2,” said U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who led the effort to get FEMA to reopen the Sandy claims. “I am pleased that FEMA has fixed this injustice and I will continue to hold their feet to the fire until every Sandy survivor recovers.”

Jonathan D. Salant may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JDSalant. Find Politics on Facebook.

Jonathan D. Salant | NJ Advance Media for NJ.comBy Jonathan D. Salant | NJ Advance Media for 
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on May 23, 2016 at 12:55 PM

25 May 2016

Flood insurance claims never paid fairly from the start

“Our flood insurance claims were never paid fairly from the start” says our Executive Director, Sue Marticek. “Therefore, our entire recovery was cut off by the knees by the non-payment to our homeowners from their flood insurance claims.” Click for more information:

22 May 2016

Whistle blower says Sandy review is “a sham”

Sandy whistle blowers: “We received instruction not to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of claims and we were directed to tailor evaluations to fail within a range even if we identify additional covered damage.” Listen to the words of Jeff Coolidge, FEMA flood certified claims adjuster, who says The Sandy Review process is “a sham.” Watch him speak below: