June 26 (UPI) -- The FBI and New Jersey law enforcement agencies said eight people, including rabbi, have been arrested on charges of defrauding $1.3 million from state and federal public assistance programs.
The law enforcement agencies carried out the arrests on Monday in the Lakewood area.
Zalmen Sorotzkin, a rabbi who runs the Congregation Lutzk synagogue and its connecting businesses, faces charges of theft by deception in the Ocean County Superior Court. His wife, Tzipporah Sorotzkin, also faces criminal charges.
Three other married couples were arrested: Mordechai and Jocheved Breskin; Mordechai and Rachel Sorotzkin; and Shimon and Yocheved Nussbaum.
Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato said the arrests are the first to come of many, adding that the fraudsters targeted Medicaid and Social Security, as well as other programs.
"Financial assistance programs are designed to alleviate family hardships for those truly in need. My office gave clear guidance and notice to the Lakewood community in 2015 of what is considered financial abuse of these programs," Coronato said in a statement. "Those who choose to ignore those warnings by seeking to illegally profit on the backs of taxpayers will pay the punitive price of their actions."
Those accused under-reported their income and applied for benefits including Medicaid, Section 8 housing assistance, food stamps, Social Security disability and Supplemental Security Income, Coronato said.
A law enforcement source told the Asbury Park Press that the investigation into the fraud scheme found that government benefits fraud and income tax evasion in the Lakewood community is widespread.
"This operation highlights the success of federal, state and county cooperation in New Jersey's effort to combat Medicaid and other government benefits fraud," New Jersey Comptroller Phillip James Degnan said in a statement. "My office will continue to ensure that only individuals and families truly in need of benefits receive them, and that those who choose to steal from New Jersey taxpayers are referred for prosecution."