by Lisa Coryell
TRENTON– Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin today announced indictments in two cases of alleged State employment benefits. The indictments are the result of a joint investigation with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL).
Richard Hockenberry, 71, of Hawthorne, NJ, was indicted on a charge of fourth-degree failure to provide Workers’ Compensation coverage for an employee injured on the job. As a result, the New Jersey Uninsured Employer’s Fund was made responsible for payment of Temporary Disability benefits, medical benefits, counsel, and other fees totaling $194,582.
Brianna Larkins, 34, of Secaucus, NJ, was indicted on a charge of third-degree theft by deception for allegedly stealing $19,659 in Unemployment Insurance benefits by filing an unemployment claim in the State of New Jersey while being employed full time by the Kings County District Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, NY.
The cases stem from an ongoing initiative in which the AG’s Office and NJDOL are aggressively investigating crimes that siphon money from taxpayer-funded employment benefit funds. The state grand jury indictments were secured by the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau as a result of joint investigations with NJDOL.
“We’re working hard to stop criminals from illegally siphoning money from New Jersey’s employment insurance benefits,” said Acting Attorney General Platkin. “These are crimes against the taxpayers who fund the benefits, and against honest New Jersey workers who count on these benefits to sustain them financially when their jobs are lost through no fault of their own or when they suffer injuries at work.”
“These critical funds are available to help the workers of our state in their time of need,” said Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. “These indictments should serve as a reminder that we, along with our partners in the Attorney General’s Office, will work together to ensure that unemployment benefits are available to those entitled to them, and those employers who fail to procure Workers’ Compensation coverage to protect workers injured on the job will be held accountable.”
“The defendants in these cases allegedly stole thousands of dollars in benefits from the funds that serve as a vital financial safety net for New Jersey workers and their families,” said Director Lyndsay V. Ruotolo of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We are putting offenders on notice that this type of unlawful conduct will be criminally prosecuted through our strong partnership with the New Jersey Department of Labor.”
According the allegations against Hockenberry, on February 26, 2018, an employee of Rick Hockenberry Landscaping, was injured during the course of his employment. On May 4, 2018, the victim filed a Workers’ Compensation claim petition. During the course of the Workers’ Compensation case, it was discovered that Hockenberry failed to carry Workers’ Compensation insurance coverage, as required by law, at the time of the accident. Documents obtained from the New Jersey Compensation Rating and Inspection Bureau (CRIB), the state agency that maintains all records regarding Worker’s Compensation insurance policies, confirmed that Rick Hockenberry Landscaping did not maintain Workers’ Compensation coverage on the date of the accident. CRIB’s records also revealed that Rick Hockenberry Landscaping had maintained Workers’ Compensation coverage from February 26, 1977 through February 26, 1993, and only purchased a new policy on August 11, 2018, after the victim’s injury had occurred. The policy was canceled for non-payment of premium on March 10, 2019.
According to the allegations against Larkins, she illegally collected unemployment benefits in New Jersey while being employed full time in New York. Had the New Jersey Department of Labor been aware of Larkins’ full-time employment, which she allegedly intentionally failed to disclose, she would have been ineligible for unemployment benefits. Larkins collected benefits for the claim period beginning on March 20, 2020 through December 5, 2020. Subpoenaed records confirm that throughout the claim period, Larkins was employed full-
Acting Attorney General Platkin and Labor Commissioner Asaro-Angelo urged members of the public and employers to report cases of suspected fraud by visiting the NJDOL online portal or calling the NJDOL fraud hotline at (609) 777-4304.
Deputy Attorney General Danielle Scarduzio is prosecuting the cases and Detective Brianna Perea investigated the cases for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Jacqueline D. Smith and Bureau Chief Erik Daab.
Acting Attorney General Platkin thanked the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development for their referrals and valuable assistance.
Third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Fourth-degree crimes carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.