TOMS RIVER - A few of the 26 defendants, charged with theft of government services in the summer arrests in Lakewood, ask for admission to pre-trial intervention.


The Ocean County Prosecutor's Office confirmed information that surfaced in the Asbury Park Press, identifying six individuals who are charged with third-degree theft by deception.

The arrestees are accused of misrepresenting their annual earnings, to be eligible for services available to people on marginal incomes, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid and housing subsidies. Prosecutors estimated that the alleged theft of federal and state aid was in the millions of dollars, over several years.

County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato later disclosed that members of his office outlined the risks associated with abusing benefit programs in 2015.

A 90-day window is in effect for anyone in Ocean County knowingly taking government services by fraud to step up, pay fines and restitution, and avoid prosecution, under a pilot program developed by law enforcement and the state Comprtoller's Office.

A late-summer effort to explain the program, held at the Pine Belt Arena on the grounds of Toms River High School North in anticipation of a large turnout, drew scant response.

According to Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the Prosecutor's Office, pre-trial intervention PTI) applications are not unusual in cases involving third-degree charges. Convictions on that level can mean sentences of three to five years and fines up to $15,000.

The PTI system in New Jersey is designed to rehabilitate defendants, generally facing charges for the first time. It can entail anywhere from one to three years. Enrollees are expected to pay fines, fees and penalties,and possibly restitution, undergo urine tests, and possibly submit to community service, psychological or drug and alcohol evaluations.

Charges are dismissed for those who complete the program, and no record of conviction remains. Charges are returned to the courts for those who fail to meet the requirements.

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