NRI Sentenced To Prison For Sandy Relief Fund Fraud

An Indian-American motel owner was sentenced to prison Nov. 4 for stealing money from federal disaster relief funds meant for victims of the Superstorm Sandy.

Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino announced that Sandipkumar Patel, 44, of Edison, N.J., the owner of a motel in Ocean County was sentenced to 3 years in state prison Nov. 4, for stealing more than $81,000 in federal disaster relief funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) by fraudulently claiming to provide temporary shelter to victims of Superstorm Sandy.

Superior Court Judge Wendel E. Daniels in Ocean County sentenced Patel after he pleaded guilty on Sept. 26 to a second-degree charge of theft by deception. He has paid full restitution.

Patel admitted that he committed fraud when claiming FEMA funds under the Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program. Under the program, FEMA directly paid participating hotels and motels for rooms temporarily occupied by residents displaced by Superstorm Sandy. Patel owns the American Motel on Route 166 in Toms River, N.J., with his wife. FEMA paid the motel $133.28 per day for each room occupied by storm victims.

The joint federal and state investigation revealed that Patel fraudulently billed FEMA a total of $81,567 in the names of 11 individuals under the TSA program. Eight of the individuals never stayed at the motel at all, while the other three stayed for shorter periods than were billed, or, in one case, shared a room that Patel already had billed to FEMA in the name of the other occupant. In some cases, Patel falsely billed for stays of multiple weeks or even months. He billed FEMA more than $50,000 in the names of several of his personal relatives who live in New Jersey but were not displaced by the storm.

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