A Brick woman admitted in federal court in Trenton Friday that she fraudulently took benefit money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency after twice claiming she needed the money for housing after two separate storms.
Sara L. Cengiz, 47, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson to a charge of disaster benefits fraud related to Hurricane Irene.
On April 2, 2010, a Presidential Disaster Declaration was issued for certain areas in the State of New Jersey adversely affected by severe storms, which occurred in March 2010.
Cengiz initially filed an application after a presidential disaster declaration in 2010 for a storm that occurred in March of that year. Cengiz admitted that in her application, she falsely claimed she had to rent another residence because her residence was damaged as a result of the severe storms and was unfit for occupancy. Cengiz submitted fraudulent lease agreements and rental receipts to FEMA to prove she was paying rent, which she was not. From May 2010 to June 2011, Cengiz received $26,938 in fraudulently obtained FEMA disaster-related funds, authorities said.
Then, on Aug. 31, 2011, Cengiz again filed an application with FEMA seeking federal rental assistance and assistance for personal property damage as a result of Hurricane Irene. Cengiz admitted that she again falsely claimed her residence was unfit for occupancy, having submitted fraudulent lease agreements and rental receipts to FEMA to prove she was paying rent. From November 2011 to January 2012, Cengiz received $13,039 in fraudulently obtained FEMA disaster related funds.
The charge to which Cengiz pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty of 30 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. As part of her plea agreement, Cengiz will also be required to pay restitution. Sentencing is scheduled for March 27, 2015.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, Philadelphia Field Office, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Gregory Null, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.