TRENTON – A former Department of Community Affairs senior field representative was sentenced to state prison Tuesday for stealing more than $800,000 from a program that assists people threatened with homelessness, Acting Attorney General Paula T. Dow and Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor announced.
According to Taylor, Robin Wheeler-Hicks, 50, of Elizabeth, was sentenced to seven years in state prison by Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier in Mercer County. Wheeler-Hicks pleaded guilty in March 2006 to charges of bribery and theft by deception for stealing from the Homelessness Prevention Program, which is administered by the Department of Community Affairs (DCA). Wheeler-Hicks was sentenced to seven years in prison on each charge, with the sentences to run concurrently.
In pleading guilty, Wheeler-Hicks, a former DCA-Union County senior field representative, admitted submitting 428 false applications to the Homelessness Prevention Program for grants totaling more than $800,000. She was ordered to pay $830,901 in restitution to the Department of Community Affairs and is permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey.
Wheeler-Hicks was indicted in December 2005, along with Tashime Mitchell, 36, of Irvington, and Renita Livingston, 36, of Hillside. Wheeler-Hicks was responsible for processing Homelessness Prevention Program cases in Union County. The program provides grants to eligible individuals and families who, through no fault of their own, are at risk of becoming homeless. It provides 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 are forced out of their home.
Mitchell and Livingston pleaded guilty to assisting Wheeler-Hicks in submitting numerous false Homelessness Prevention Program applications. Mitchell was sentenced on Nov. 3, 2006 to five years in prison, and Livingston 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 investigation determined that Wheeler-Hicks used her official position to obtain pertinent information regarding HPP candidates, which she used to create and submit fictitious HPP claims for payment to applicant landlords. Mitchell, Livingston and other co-defendants assisted her by providing information for the false applications. The fraudulent applications reported that the applicants were temporarily homeless due to residential fires. To support the claims, the applications included fictitious fire reports purportedly from the Elizabeth Fire Department.
Two other defendants were sentenced recently in the case. Joana Pereira, 27, of Newark, formerly known as Joana Rodrigues, was sentenced by Judge Billmeier on Nov. 5 to two years of probation, conditioned upon her serving 364 days in the county jail. Pereira, a landlord, pleaded guilty in 2007 to theft by deception for submitting four fraudulent applications for grants totaling $14,963 under the Homelessness Prevention Program. Her boyfriend, Vitor Pedreiras, 32, of Hillside, pleaded guilty to assisting her. He was required to forfeit his job as a Hillside police officer and was sentenced on Oct. 29 to two years of probation, conditioned upon him serving 364 days in county jail.
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.
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