|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a Livingston accountant pleaded guilty today to orchestrating a scheme in which he and numerous co-defendants defrauded the state of nearly $700,000 by filing false claims for unemployment benefits.
Todd P. Halpern, 48, of Livingston, pleaded guilty today before Superior Court Judge Mark J. Fleming in Mercer County to first-degree money laundering and second-degree theft by deception. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Halpern be sentenced to 12 years in state prison, including four years of parole ineligibility, on the money laundering charge, and a concurrent sentence of seven years in prison on the theft charge. He also must pay more than $500,000 in restitution. Halpern is scheduled to be sentenced on March 7.
Halpern was indicted with 12 other defendants on June 11 as a result of “Operation April Fools,” a joint investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Deputy Attorney General Anthony P. Torntore prosecuted Halpern and took the guilty plea for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau.
In pleading guilty, Halpern admitted that, from October 2008 to May 2012, he orchestrated a scheme in which he and his co-defendants stole from the state by filing fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits. They stole a total of $694,606 as a result of 36 false claims. The investigation revealed that Halpern filed unemployment insurance claims using identities stolen from clients, and filed fraudulent employment records in the names of businesses he served in order to support the claims. Halpern, who was never licensed as an accountant in New Jersey, used his fraud schemes to fund lavish expenditures, including season tickets to the New York Giants, purchases of jewelry, gold and silver, and purchases of high-end vehicles, including a Cadillac Escalade, Lexus GX-470 and classic 1957 Chevy Bel Air.
“This is one of the largest cases of unemployment insurance fraud uncovered in New Jersey in years,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “With this plea, we have ensured that the ringleader behind this scheme will face a deservedly lengthy prison sentence.”
“Working with the Department of Labor, we are aggressively targeting those who attempt to steal from New Jersey’s unemployment insurance fund,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Through new security measures and tough prosecutions, we are putting con artists on notice that, if they attempt these crimes, we will catch them and put them behind bars.”
“Stopping fraud has been a major priority under this administration, and our efforts have prevented fraudsters from draining more than $500 million from the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. That success allowed this administration to bring the debt-ridden trust fund back into solvency years ahead of schedule, allowing New Jersey businesses to avoid millions of dollars in tax hikes that would have been triggered by law to replenish the trust fund,” said Harold J. Wirths, Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
The Department of Labor has implemented new security measures under Governor Chris Christie and Commissioner Wirths to eliminate weaknesses exploited by the defendants and detect fraud in connection with claims filed for unemployment benefits. Those software and program changes, which enable the department’s information technology systems to identify fraudulent claims, resulted in a lead on April 1, 2012 that prompted the investigation that led to the indictment of Halpern and his co-defendants. Because of the date, the investigation was dubbed “Operation April Fools.”
The indictment was presented to the state grand jury by Deputy Attorney General Torntore and Deputy Attorney General Valerie Noto. The investigation was conducted for the Division of Criminal Justice by Detective Lynn Patrick Fitzgerald, Deputy Chief of Detectives Alex M. Adkins, and Deputy Attorneys General Torntore and Noto, under the supervision of Deputy Attorney General Jill Mayer, Chief of the Specialized Crimes Bureau. The investigation was conducted for the Department of Labor and Workforce Development by Supervising Investigator Michael Kulyk and Supervisor of Investigations Michael B. Marich of the Bureau of Benefit Payment Control, under the direction of Charles J. Walkowiak, Director of Fraud Prevention and Risk Management. The Passaic County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service provided valuable assistance in the investigation.
The 12 other defendants indicted with Todd Halpern included his father, George J. Halpern, 75, of Short Hills, who also is an accountant, and his father-in-law, Jack Chesner, 81, of Morris Plains. They pleaded guilty previously to third-degree theft by deception and face sentences of probation. Edgard Torres, 50, of North Bergen, and Andres Lopez III, 41, of Lyndhurst, also pleaded guilty to third-degree theft by deception and face probationary sentences. Halpern’s mother-in-law was admitted into the Pre-Trial Intervention Program. Charges are pending against the remaining defendants, and they are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The indictment is posted with a June 19, 2013 press release at www.njpublicsafety.com.