TRENTON – Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino announced that a former claims investigator with the State Department of the Treasury pleaded guilty today to stealing more than $75,000 by processing and/or approving fraudulent claims in the names of various relatives and friends.
Stephanie Hargrove, 39, of Willingboro, N.J., who was a principal claims investigator for the Division of Risk Management, pleaded guilty to second-degree theft by unlawful taking before Superior Court Judge Christopher J. Garrenger in Burlington County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that she be sentenced to three years in prison. She must pay full restitution to the state. In addition, she must forfeit her job and will be permanently barred from public employment. Hargrove was suspended from her state job after she was charged in April. Sentencing is scheduled for March 23.
Deputy Attorneys General Mallory Shanahan and Jonathan Gilmore prosecuted Hargrove and took the guilty plea. Hargrove was charged in an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Attorney General Porrino commended all of the detectives and attorneys who worked on the case for the Corruption Bureau. He also thanked the Department of the Treasury for referring the matter to the Division of Criminal Justice and cooperating throughout the investigation.
Claims investigators process claims for damages filed against the departments or divisions of state government, including tort claims. Hargrove, as a principal claims investigator, worked in a supervisory capacity overseeing other claims investigators, but she also handled her own caseload. In pleading guilty, Hargrove admitted that, over a period of five years or more, she processed or approved in her official capacity a total of in excess of $75,000 in fraudulent claims. The claims were filed in the names of relatives, friends and acquaintances of Hargrove. The investigation revealed that proceeds from certain false claims went to Hargrove. Hargrove submitted and/or processed false supporting documents as well as the false claims, knowing they were false. The claims were for various damages. For example, a number of claims involved false assertions that vehicles were wrongfully towed due to improper recordkeeping by the MVC, and others involved individuals claiming that foster children placed with them by the Department of Children and Families seriously damaged their homes.
“Hargrove corruptly used her authority as a state claims investigator to steal huge sums of money for herself, her relatives and her friends,” said Attorney General Porrino. “What makes this case especially egregious is that she had a duty to prevent fraud, and instead perpetrated it at the expense of taxpayers.”
“Rooting out public corruption and protecting taxpayer dollars is a top priority for us, and we urge members of the public to alert us confidentially if they are aware of fraud or thefts committed by government employees,” said Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Tipsters can receive a reward of up to $25,000 if they provide us with information leading to a conviction.”
Attorney General Porrino and Director Honig noted that individuals who report public corruption may be able to receive up to a $25,000 reward. The Division of Criminal Justice has a toll-free tip line 866-TIPS-4CJ for the public to confidentially report public corruption. Information on the Public Corruption Reward Program is posted at this link: www.nj.gov/oag/corruption/reward-info.html
The deadline for providing tips and potentially qualifying for a reward under the Public Corruption Reward Program is November 15.
Robin Lord, Esq., of Trenton, N.J.
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