New Jersey Contractor Admits Stealing Almost $1 Million in Hurricane Sandy Funds, Spending Money on Drugs

A New Jersey man pleaded guilty to financial theft, money laundering and drug charges on Monday after admitting to taking cash from a Hurricane Sandy victim.

Ocean County prosecutor Bradley Billhimer said yesterday that Robert Brower, 45, of Seaside Heights, acknowledged he had taken more than $750,000 from a Toms River homeowner while working as a contractor on the residence in the wake of the devastating superstorm.

He pleaded guilty to second-degree theft after failing to complete the work. During the course of his contract, cops said Brower repeatedly asked for additional money, which was provided. Some of the funds, the court heard, had been spent on the purchase of "illegal narcotics."

"Brower admitted in court that he left the house unfinished and stole in excess of $750,000 for his own use, including the purchase of illegal narcotics," prosecutor Billhimer said.

Striking the U.S. in October 2012, New Jersey and New York were two states hit the hardest by Hurricane Sandy, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

"Storm surge flooded the New York City streets, tunnels and subway lines and cut power in and around the City," the agency explained in its analysis of the storm. "In New Jersey, more than 346,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and more than two million people lost power." It cost an estimated $70 billion-worth of damage, second only to 2005's Hurricane Katrina.

Also on Monday, Brower pleaded guilty to second-degree money laundering after admitting to the theft of more than $225,000 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The government funding was intended to be a grant to help repair the Seaside Heights home. But the total amount—$229,395—was never used for that purpose, prosecutors said. In fact, the money was transferred into a bank account he had created using his dead father's social security number and date of birth. The aim had been to "conceal the proceeds of the theft."

The money was obtained in February 2016, Ocean County Prosecutor's Office detective Stephen Shadiack uncovered. Brower had claimed the funding under a Landlord Repair Program.

"Brower admitted that he converted those funds for his own use and tried to disguise his theft by using his father's pedigree information," prosecutor Billhimer asserted this week.

In a third case decided on Monday, Brower pleaded guilty to "distribution of eighteen folds of heroin to an individual in a Toms River parking lot in February last year," a press release said. The judge ordered Brower to be held in the Ocean County Jail pending his sentencing, which is currently scheduled for March 15 .

In a series of recommendations to the court, Billhimer pressed for a total of 22 years in prison. Breaking it down, he asked for seven years for the theft, 10 years for the money laundering and five years for the alleged drug distribution. All would be served in the New Jersey State Prison.

New Jersey Contractor Admits Stealing Almost $1 Million in Hurricane Sandy Funds, Spending Money on Drugs | U.S.