By Philip Newman
A Howard Beach firefighter and his wife have been charged with numerous crimes in a scheme in which they falsely claimed they suffered more than $25,000 in damages from Superstorm Sandy, the Queens district attorney said.
“The defendants are alleged to have tried to take advantage of a system established to help people who face real crisis following a natural disaster,” said Queens DA Richard Brown.
Brown identified the defendants as Christopher Poje, 43, and his wife Margaret Poje, 39, of 86th Street in Howard Beach. Conviction could bring seven years in prison for both.
“The two defendants are alleged to have lied, fabricated documents and receipts to dupe the Federal Emergency Management Agency into giving them funds to feed their own greed,” Brown said.
FEMA Commissioner Mark Peters said ”that one of these defendants is a city firefighter now charged with bilking the public trust only underscores the troubling nature of this investigation.”
The two separate complaints charged both Pojes with grand larceny, while Margaret Poje was also charged with forgery and filing a false instrument, according to prosecutors, the DA said.
According to the criminal complaints, Margaret Poje filed a claim with FEMA on Nov. 11, 2012 in which she said her primary residence was 157-21 89th St. in Howard Beach, but it turned out to be a second home owned by her and her brother, according to an investigator. FEMA reimbursements apply only to primary residences. She said she had to relocate to an apartment on West 82nd Street in Manhattan because of damage Hurricane Sandy had inflicted on the property when it struck on Oct. 29, 2012, according to prosecutors.
Margaret Poje allegedly submitted a lease agreement for the Manhattan property and a $3,800 invoice for repairs to the 89th Street Queens property, the DA’s office said. One of her co-workers at a Queens real estate agency supposedly signed the lease and rent receipts but later told an investigator in 2013 that the Manhattan property did not exist and he had not signed the papers, Brown said.
FEMA shelled out $19,556 in reimbursements to Margaret Poje.
The criminal complaint said Margaret Poje had filed a 1099 tax form that said she lived at 157-06 86th St. in Howard Beach and a former tenant told an investigator that the couple was living at that address when Sandy struck.
Brown also said the criminal complaints alleged that Christopher Poje submitted a separate FEMA claim on Nov. 11, 2012 for reimbursement for temporary housing due to Sandy. The defendant allegedly attached a late agreement and two months’ receipts for an apartment on East 37th Street in Manhattan, he said. The manager of that building said the space had been rented by other people during the dates cited on the lease.
Christopher Poje received $6,526 in FEMA benefits.