Housing Theft & Fraud in Trenton, Hamilton & Princeton Result in Felony Charges at the Mercer County Superior Court

Mercer County Fraud Charge Defense Lawyer

It has been a problem in Mercer County for years. The problem was so bad, in fact, that the County had to create a task force to figure out all the different types of criminal conduct, and the various criminals involved. The problem is housing fraud. It prompted the creation of the Fraudulent Housing Occupancy Task Force in 2017. This week, the Task Force has had some results.

12 people were arrested and charged with various offenses including Theft of Services, Theft by Deception, Criminal Mischief, and Burglary for housing scams in Trenton, Hamilton, Princeton and other municipalities in Mercer County. Specifically, the accused scammers would go into an abandoned or foreclosed property and would live there rent free. In some cases, the illegal squatters would lease out the properties where they were living to others.

In the process, these illegal squatters – using fraudulent leases or other documents purporting to show some kind of ownership – confused law enforcement, real estate agents, real estate companies, and the courts. The squatters appeared to have educated themselves on civil court process and squatters’ rights. Further, the ringleader of the property scam enlisted the assistance of a Trenton Water Works employee who turned on the water at numerous properties. That employee has been suspended from his job following his arrest.

In announcing the arrests, the Mercer County Prosecutor noted that the often lengthy eviction process is only necessary when someone has a valid leasehold interest in a property. However, when someone has no rights to be on a piece of property, then his conduct becomes a criminal trespass.

Theft of Services and Theft by Deception in Mercer County

New Jersey recognizes many types of theft offenses, including: Receiving Stolen Property, Shoplifting, Auto/Motor Vehicle Theft, Credit Card Theft, Theft by Unlawful Taking, Theft of Property Lost, Mislaid, or Delivered by Mistake, Theft by Deception, Theft by Extortion, and Theft of Services.

Because the case above involves many types of theft including Theft of Services (namely the services of the Trenton Water Works) and Theft by Deception, let’s take a look at those laws more closely.

The theft of services law contained at N.J.S.A. 2C:20-8a provides, in pertinent part, that:

A person is guilty of theft if he purposely obtains services which he knows are available only for compensation, by deception or threat, or by false token, slug, or other means, including but not limited to mechanical or electronic devices or through fraudulent statements, to avoid payment for the service.

To prove this offense occurred, the State must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the following elements:

  • Defendant purposely obtained a service;
  • Defendant knew the services were available only for compensation;
  • Defendant obtained the services by deception (or threat, or by a false token, etc.); and
  • Defendant’s purpose was to avoid payment.

Theft by deception is set forth at N.J.S.A. 2C:20-4 and provides that:

A person is g uilty of theft if he purposely obtains property of anotherby deception.

To prove this offense occurred, the State must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the following elements:

  • The defendant obtained the property of another;
  • The defendant purposely obtained the property by deception; and
  • The victim relied upon the deception in parting with the property.

In the case above, the defendants squatted on property in which they had no ownership or rental interest. In some case, the defendants leased the property to others, so they took other people’s money with the deception that they had an ownership interest in the property being leased. In addition, having the water turned on in some properties with the illegal assistance of a Trenton Water Works employee was a simple stealing of water services.

Penalties for Theft. N.J.S.A. 2C:20-2 sets forth the various penalties for theft offenses. If the amount involved is more than $200, than the theft is considered an indictable offense, which means that the case will be prosecuted in the Mercer County Superior Court in Trenton. Here is a breakdown of punishments for indictable theft offenses.

  • Second degree theft occurs when the amount involved is $75,000 or more. Penalties could include 5 to 10 years in prison, up to a $150,000 fine, and restitution (paying back the value of what was stolen).
  • Third degree theft occurs when the amount involved is between $500 and $75,000. Penalties could include 3 to 5 years in prison, up to a $15,000 fine, and restitution.
  • Fourth degree theft occurs when the amount involved is between $200 and $500. Penalties could include up to 18 months in prison, up to a $10,000 fine, and restitution.

If the amount involved is less than $200, the case will likely be handled in Scotch Plains Municipal Court, and the possible penalties are up to 6 months in jail, up to $1,000 in fines, and restitution.

Theft Attorneys in Trenton New Jersey

If you, or someone you know, have been charged with theft or fraud at the Mercer County Superior Court in Trenton New Jersey, we invite you to contact The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall to speak to one of our attorneys. We have the know-how to effectively challenge the State’s case and get you the best outcome. The Marshall Firm lawyers have over a century of experience to put to use on your behalf, including years serving as prosecutors. are experts in handling theft cases. Call us at (609) 683-8102 today for a free consultation with an attorney our team. Lawyers are standing by 24/7 to assist you.

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