Lakewood couples earned millions and still cheated welfare, officials say
LAKEWOOD — The arrest Monday of four couples, including four people who had earned millions of dollars, may just be the start as officials crack down on welfare fraud in this Ocean County community.
Rabbi Zalmen Sorotzkin, 39, of Congregation Lutzk, and his wife, Tzipporah, 35; and Mordechai Breskin, 37, and his wife, Jocheved, 35, were arrested on charges filed by the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office.
The FBI, meanwhile, arrested Rachel Sorotzkin, 32, Mordechai Sorotzkin, 35, Yocheved Nussbaum, 40, and Shimon Nussbaum, 42, on federal charges of conspiring to steal federal funds.
Authorities said the families, some of whom owned businesses and lived in large homes, collected Medicaid and subsidized housing benefits and food stamps.
Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato said that his office warned religious leaders two years ago about the risk of abusing financial assistance programs.
"Financial assistance programs are designed to alleviate family hardships for those truly in need," Coronato said. "Those who choose to ignore those warnings by seeking to illegally profit on the backs of taxpayers will pay the punitive price of their actions."
Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the prosecutor, said the meeting in 2015 with Lakewood religious leaders was meant to explain the application process for various financial assistance programs. He said the meetings were intended to inform the community about the potential "pitfalls" of what can be a confusing process and, also warn about the potential risks of providing false information.
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These are the first arrests as part of an ongoing investigation, and Della Fave said Monday that more suspects could face charges.
The Breskins are charged with improperly collecting more than $500,000 in Medicaid, SNAP, HUD, and SSI benefits from January 2009 until December 2014.
The Sorotzkins are charged with collecting more than $300,000 in aid during that same time frame.
County officials did not detail what assets and income these families earned during that time. But Coronato said the charges came after the defendants allegedly declared lower income amounts in order to qualify for the various benefit programs. By doing this he said they were able to collect more money for themselves and their family.
Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick said two other couples were charged after collecting federal benefits despite earning millions.
The feds say Rachel and Mordechai Sorotzkind received Medicaid benefits for themselves and their children despite getting "significant windfalls," including a $1 million payment to Rachel Sorotzkin's business in April 2013. Fitzpatrick said that payment was not reported to Medicaid, nor was the fact that the couple earned more than $1 million in both 2012 and 2013 while they continued to claim medicaid benefits. In total Fitzpatrick said the couple collected close to $96,000 in "taxpayer-funded medical care," including $22,000 for medical expenses when their sixth child was born in November 2013.
"Everything is going to work out and all will be vindicataed," Fred Zemel, an attorney for Rachel Sorotzkin said.
Fitzpatrick said the Nussbaums also received illegal benefits from 2011 through 2014 by creating several shell companies, which they said were run by relatives but were actually under their control. Fitzpatrick said the family made as much as $1.8 million in 2013 but still applied for Medicaid, Section 8 housing, and SNAP food benefits.
In order to hide their income, Fitzpatrick said the couple opened several bank accounts using the names of the companies and would then use the money from the accounts for their daily expenses. In total, Fitzpatrick said the Nussbaums received close to $178,000 in government funds.
Yocheved and Shimon Nussbaum appeared in front of a judge in Trenton on Monday afternoon, the Associated Press reported. They will be released on $100,000 bond each and their travel will be restricted to the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
A judge also ordered the rabbi and his wife to be released from jail pending trial. Their attorney, Edward Bertucio, said the couple is pleading not guilty.
All four defendants who appeared in state court were ordered to surrender their passports.
The conspiracy charges carry a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.
Coronato encouraged anyone with information about the investigation to contact Sgt. Mark Malinowski at 732-929-2027.
State Comptroller Philip James Degnan said, "My office will continue to ensure that only individuals and families truly in need of benefits receive them," and that those who choose to steal from New Jersey Taxpayers are referred for prosecution."
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated to say that state prosecutors did not disclose information about the income or assets of Zalmen and Tzipporah Sorotzkin or the Breskins.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com