TRENTON –A former Hillside police officer was sentenced Thursday for stealing funds from the Homelessness Prevention Program administered by the state Department of Community Affairs, Attorney General Anne Milgram announced.
According to Criminal Justice Director Deborah L. Gramiccioni, Vitor “Victor” Pedreiras, 32, of Hillside, was ordered Thursday to serve two years probation conditioned upon his serving 364 days in county jail by Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier in Mercer County. The sentence was based on Pedreiras’ guilty plea to theft by deception, a charge contained in an Aug. 14, 2007 state grand jury indictment.
In pleading guilty on Aug. 5, Pedreiras admitted that he falsely submitted – and assisted his girlfriend in falsely submitting – four fraudulent applications for grants totaling $14,963 under the Homelessness Prevention Program.
Pedreiras’ girlfriend, Joana Pereira, 27, of Newark, formerly known as Joana Rodrigues, pleaded guilty on Feb. 21, 2007 to charges of third-degree theft by deception. Under their plea agreements, Pedreiras and Pereira are required to pay restitution to the Department of Community Affairs of $14,963.
At the time of the guilty plea, Judge Billmeier signed an order removing Pedreiras from his job as a police officer and permanently barring him from public employment. He had been suspended by the police department since the indictment was returned.
Pereira, a landlord, admitted she submitted the four fraudulent HPP applications with one of her tenants, Tashime Mitchell, 36, of Irvington, who shared the proceeds with her. Three applications listed Joana Pereira as landlord and listed as tenant either Mitchell, a relative of Mitchell, or a fictitious person. The fourth listed Vitor Pedreiras as landlord and a relative of his as the tenant. Pereira is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Billmeier on Nov. 5.
The false applications were submitted to Robin Wheeler-Hicks. Wheeler-Hicks, 50, of Elizabeth, who was formerly the DCA-Union County senior field representative, had responsibility for processing HPP cases in the county, pleaded guilty in March 2006 to stealing more than $866,000 from the Homelessness Prevention Program. She is also scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Billmeier on Nov. 5.
The Homelessness Prevention Program (HPP) provides grants to eligible individuals and families who, through no fault of their own, are in jeopardy of becoming homeless. It provides money to pay rent to keep a family in a current home, and provides applicants with up to two months rent and security deposit for a new residence if they have been forced out of their home.
Mitchell and Renita Livingston, 36, of Hillside, previously pleaded guilty to assisting Wheeler-Hicks in submitting numerous false HPP applications. Mitchell pleaded guilty to bribery and was sentenced on Nov. 3, 2006 to five years in prison. Livingston pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was sentenced on Dec. 15, 2006 to three years in prison. Mitchell was ordered to pay $29,000 in restitution, and Livingston, $10,500.
The charges resulted from an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice and New Jersey State Police. Nine other defendants have pleaded guilty, including two former DCA employees who received probation and four corporations. All of the defendants were required to pay restitution to DCA.
The Department of Community Affairs alerted the Division of Criminal Justice when program officials uncovered questionable applications and transactions involving the Homelessness Prevention Program in Union County. The DCA provided administrative resources and investigative assistance to the Division of Criminal Justice and State Police throughout the investigation.
Deputy Attorney General Anthony Picione, Deputy Chief of the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau, and Deputy Attorney General David Fritch prosecuted the case and represented the state at the sentencing. The investigation was conducted for the DCJ Corruption Bureau by Sgt. Joseph Caloiaro, Sgt. Rob Feriozzi, Detective Anthony Luyber, Detective Kiersten Pentony, Civil Investigator Wayne Cummings, and Analyst Alison Callery. It was conducted for the New Jersey State Police by Detective Sgt. Dustin Lesnever, Detective Sgt. Gerald Nachurski and Detective Sgt. Gregory Shawaryn.
Attorney General Milgram noted that the Division of Criminal Justice has established a toll-free Corruption Tipline for the public to confidentially report corruption, financial crime and other illegal activities: 1-866-TIPS-4CJ. The public also can confidentially report suspected wrongdoing online at www.njdcj.org.
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