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LAKEWOOD, N.J. (AP) — More than a year after 13 Orthodox Jewish couples were arrested and charged with underreporting income to qualify for welfare payments, no indictments have been handed up.
Authorities tell The Asbury Park Press that's because the cases are complex. Normally, indictments follow the filing of charges by about four months. Prosecutors alleged the couples illegally obtained nearly $2 million in benefits by misrepresenting their income and failing to disclose income from numerous sources on applications for Medicaid, housing, Social Security and food assistance benefits.
The arrests raised tensions in the town of Lakewood, which has seen a large influx of ultra-Orthodox Jewish families. Among those arrested were a rabbi and the former leader of a Jewish religious school.
Incidents of vandalism were reported after the charges were announced in late June 2017. Flyers posted on cars around the town cited the arrests, and someone posted a banner containing an anti-Jewish slur on a Holocaust memorial in front of a synagogue.
Local officials said the arrests also created fear among some residents about participating in welfare programs. But while state officials reported a decrease in enrollment of about 2,600 people in the months after the arrests, Lakewood Mayor Raymond Coles told the newspaper that demand for housing programs remains the same. The U.S. Census estimates about one-third of township residents live below poverty level.
Edward Bertucio, an attorney representing Rabbi Zalmen Sorotzkin, told the newspaper the length of time since the arrests indicates "the government does not have a case."
About half of the couples who were charged will seek to avoid jail by repaying the benefits and satisfying other conditions under a pretrial diversion program available to first-time offenders, according to the newspaper.
Information from: Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, http://www.app.com
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