TRENTON – Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced that the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor has obtained an indictment charging a Monmouth County public adjuster with insurance fraud and related charges for allegedly submitting fraudulent insurance claims in an attempt to defraud New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company (NJM) out of more than $15,000.
Joseph Shammah, 39, of West Long Branch, owner of Northeast Claims Group, LLC, was charged yesterday (April 4) in a Mercer County grand jury indictment with second-degree insurance fraud, third-degree attempted theft by deception, fourth-degree misconduct by a corporate official and fourth-degree false swearing.
Shammah was charged as a result of an undercover “sting” investigation dubbed “Operation Home Makeover.” The investigation, which took place in 2012, was aimed at exposing fraudulent insurance practices employed by public adjusters in their negotiations with insurance companies throughout New Jersey. A public adjuster is an intermediary between an insured and his or her insurance company who is hired by an insured after an event of loss causes damage to the insured’s covered property.
“At a time when thousands of New Jersey homeowners are still reeling from the effects of Superstorm Sandy, they need to know that they can depend on the people they hire to negotiate on their behalf and that those hired professionals will conduct themselves within the confines of the law,” Attorney General Chiesa said. “We believe that this defendant violated the law in an attempt to line his own pocket.”
“When corrupt public adjusters defraud insurance companies, this deception results in increased insurance rates for homeowners in New Jersey,” Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Ronald Chillemi said. “Investigating and prosecuting dishonest public adjusters is a priority for the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor and my office will continue to use proactive techniques such as stings to crack down on this type of fraud. When we successfully root out this type of behavior, we help alleviate some of the burdens of rising insurance costs that homeowners face.”
As part of “Operation Home Makeover,” the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor utilized undercover personnel. The indictment alleges that between April 1 and Aug. 3, 2012, Shammah came to the house and made false statements regarding the damage in order to obtain approximately $15,452 from NJM to which he was not entitled. It is further alleged that Shammah swore false information about the cause of the damage under oath.
It is alleged that the undercover detectives recorded statements from Shammah that demonstrate that he knew that the claims that he submitted were false and that he was not entitled to recover insurance proceeds for the type of damage that actually exists at the property. Shammah allegedly tried to push through these claims in order to fraudulently recover insurance money to which he was not legally entitled.
The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Second-degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison and a criminal fine of up to $150,000 while third-degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of five years in state prison and a criminal fine of up to $15,000. Fourth-degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of 18 months in state prison and a criminal fine of $10,000.
Deputy Attorneys General Cheryl A. Maccaroni and T.J. Harker, Lt. Russell Rizzo, and Detectives Christine Sullivan and Michael Rasar were assigned to the case. Sgt. Jarek Pyrzanowski and Detective Natalie Brotherston also assisted in the investigation. Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Chillemi thanked NJM for referring the matter to the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor and for working with the OIFP throughout the course of this investigation. Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Chillemi also thanked Acting Regional Superintendent Joseph P. Winnicki, Central Regional Office, with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Parks and Forestry and the staff of Washington Crossing State Park.