A North Merrick woman, Jena Sowinski, was one of three whom authorities arrested in late October and charged with filing fraudulent claims with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for disaster assistance funds after Hurricane Sandy.
Jena Sowinski first applied for FEMA disaster assistance on Nov. 6, 2012, claiming that Sandy had damaged her home on Express Street in Plainview, and that her mailing address was now on Meadowbrook Road in Merrick, according to her federal criminal complaint. It states that Sowinski changed her story on Dec. 2, 2012, when she told FEMA that it was her Meadowbrook Road apartment that Sandy damaged.
The apartment is actually located in North Merrick, which received little flooding from Sandy.
Sowinski also allegedly informed FEMA that the apartment was a rental property and her primary residence. She is reported to have notified FEMA on Jan. 17, 2013, that her “post-disaster address” was on Park Manor Court in Glen Cove.
From December 2012 to May 2013, FEMA made six payments to Sowinski of between $1,650 and $4,183 for rental assistance and personal property damage, totaling $18,283.
The complaint states that Sowinski submitted documents to FEMA in January that purportedly supported her claims, including leases, rental receipts, an itemized list of personal property losses and a written explanation of how Sandy had left her Meadowbrook Road apartment unlivable.
The building in which Sowinski lived sustained minor landscaping damage in Sandy, according to officials.
Office of the Inspector General agents arrested Sowinski, who was arraigned on FEMA fraud charges in Central Islip at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The court released her on $50,000 bond, according to Robert Nardoza, spokesman for Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District. He said that Sowinski faces a maximum of five years in prison and a fine that the court would determine if convicted.
“Defendants brazenly stole disaster relief funds, rubbing salt in neighbors’ and communities’ wounds,” stated Lynch’s office in a Twitter message.
Sowinski’s attorney, Robert Del Grosso, declined to comment on the case.