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NJ officials: $225,000 from bogus Hurricane Sandy charity split among 5 legit groups

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Five genuine charities have split $225,000 in contributions to a purported Superstorm Sandy charity that was shut down by state authorities after its operators stole the name of New Jersey First Lady Mary Pat Christie’s fund, acting state Attorney General John J. Hoffman said this morning.

The money came from the Hurricane Sandy Relief Foundation (HSRF), created by John Sandberg and Christina Terraccino.

A judge in Hackensack last year dissolved the bogus charity, which authorities said gave less than 1% of the proceeds to help victims, under a settlement agreement between the couple and the state.

Both Sandberg and Terracino also were banned from ever again running a charitable organization related to Sandy and from serving in a leadership position in any charitable organization in New Jersey for at least two years.

Recent reports said the couple had relocated to Costa Rica and launched a new business there.

Financial records show that Sandberg and Terraccino used some of the money from the phony charity to pay off credit cards, to have dinner at Vivo Tapas in Newark (among other restaurants), to buy a Christmas tree, to shop at the Apple online store and for other personal uses, state authorities alleged in bringing a lawsuit against them and HSRF.

The $225,000 was distributed last week to four charitable organizations registered with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs and one charitable organization registered in New York State — all specifically for the benefit of Sandy victims.

The organizations were selected based on their proposals to specifically use the money to help Sandy victims, in accord with the representations that HSRF made to the public when soliciting donations.

The distribution is the first installment of roughly $334,000 seized from the couple and made available for those in need, Hoffman said.

“Today’s announcement is a victory for donors who gave generously to help families whose lives were torn apart by Superstorm Sandy,” New Jersey DCA Acting Director Steve Lee said. “As we demonstrated in bringing charges against those involved in price gouging and other scams in Sandy’s wake, we will not tolerate anyone who seeks to profit from the suffering of others.”

Sandberg and Terraccino ( below ), both of Sparta, agreed last year to place the approximately $631,000 donated to that point and any additional funds that came in afterward into an interest-bearing attorneys’ escrow account. The amount included $13,597 that state officials said Sandberg and Terraccino transferred directly to their own personal accounts.

Superior Court Judge Robert Contillo also ordered that remainder of $400,000 in donated items that were stored in a warehouse, as well as unused gift cards, be donated to the Salvation Army.

State authorities accused HSRF and the couple of unlawfully misleading the public by diverting donated funds into their personal accounts. They also misled donors with false claims about the ways donations would be used, falsely claimed that donations were tax-deductible, and “otherwise deceived the public in violation of New Jersey’s charity registration and consumer protection laws,” Hoffman said.

State authorities alleged in the lawsuit that the charity hardly provided the promised “immediate” relief to Sandy victims, distributing only $1,650 in gift cards during the three and a half months of its existence – an amount representing less than one percent of the $631,000 raised.

The recipients of the $225,000:

O.C.E.A.N., Inc., of Toms River, received $100,000 to construct 12 three-bedroom, single-family homes in Berkeley Township. The homes will be rented to Sandy victims. Placements will be made based on O.C.E.A.N. Inc.’s waiting list for rental housing, as well as on referrals from the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group and Catholic Charities.

The FoodBank of Monmouth/Ocean Counties, of Neptune, received $50,000 to support its network of food pantries that provide food for thousands of Sandy-affected families.

The Alliance Center for Independence, of Edison, in partnership with South Carolina-based Portlight Strategies, Inc., received $50,000 for post-Sandy relief projects aiding individuals with disabilities. This will include providing durable medical equipment; the repair or replacement of lifts, elevators and ramps; and other equipment for internal and external accessibility needs.

Graybeards, Ltd. Based in Rockaway, N.Y., received $25,000 for donations to Sandy-affected individuals in and near the Rockaway Peninsula. This proposal was selected because certain contributions to HSRF were earmarked for Superstorm Sandy relief in New York.

The state divisions of Criminal Justice and Consumer Affairs brought the case to Bergen County because Sandberg listed his parents’ home address in Wyckoff as the main business contact when the HSRF was established as a nonprofit on October 31, 2012. A Facebook page used Terracino’s hometown of South Hackensack.

CLIFFVIEW PILOT broke the original story:

  • YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: State authorities have sued the operators of a purported Superstorm Sandy charity who they said steered donations into their personal accounts and stole the name of New Jersey First Lady Mary Pat Christie’s Hurricane Sandy Relief charity to do so. For all of the details, click here to: READ MORE….

John Sandberg, Christina Terraccino

Chief Investigator Laurie Goodman, of the DCA’s Office of Consumer Protection, conducted the investigation. Deputy Attorney General Lorraine Rak, Chief of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section, and Deputy Attorney General Kourtney J. A. Knop are representing the state.

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