TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that a former claims investigator with the State Department of the Treasury was sentenced to prison today for stealing $78,000 by processing and/or approving fraudulent claims in the names of various relatives and friends.
Stephanie Hargrove, 40, of Willingboro, N.J., who formerly was a principal claims investigator for the Division of Risk Management, was sentenced to three years in state prison by Superior Court Judge Mark P. Tarantino in Burlington County. Hargrove pleaded guilty on Sept. 20, 2017 to second-degree theft by unlawful taking. She must pay full restitution to the state in the amount of $78,022. She forfeited her state job and is permanently barred from public employment. Hargrove was suspended from her state job after she was charged in April 2017.
Deputy Attorneys General Mallory Shanahan and Jonathan Gilmore prosecuted Hargrove and handled the sentencing. Hargrove was charged in an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Attorney General Grewal 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 $78,022 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.
“We will remain vigilant on behalf of New Jersey taxpayers to ensure that public employees who unlawfully exploit their positions for personal gain are exposed and held accountable,” said Attorney General Grewal. “This defendant’s conduct was especially corrupt, because she enriched herself and others close to her by committing the very type of fraud that she was hired to prevent.”
“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 Grewal 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
Robin Lord, Esq., of Trenton, N.J.
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