On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, 99-2-283- I.
Before Judges Havey, Wefing and Cuff.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cuff, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Following a jury trial, defendant was found guilty of two counts of conspiracy (second degree) contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2, theft by deception (third degree) contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:20-4, and official misconduct (second degree) contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:30-2. Defendant was sentenced to concurrent terms of five years on each of the conspiracy convictions and the official misconduct conviction, and a concurrent three-year term on the theft by deception conviction. In addition, a $200 VCCB assessment, a $300 SNSF assessment, a fine of $3000 and restitution in the amount of $1900 were also imposed.
On appeal, defendant raises the following arguments:
POINT I THE EVIDENCE WAS INSUFFICIENT TO ESTABLISH MS. DECREE'S GUILT OF SECOND-DEGREE CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT THEFT IN EXCESS OF $75,000.
POINT II THE EVIDENCE WAS INSUFFICIENT TO ESTABLISH MS. DECREE'S GUILT OF SECOND-DEGREE CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT OFFICIAL MISCONDUCT AND SECOND-DEGREE OFFICIAL MISCONDUCT.
The convictions stem from a fraud scheme involving a Bergen County psychiatrist and a multitude of employees of the Newark Board of Education. The State alleged that between August 7, 1989 and November 3, 1994, Carl H. Lichtman, a psychiatrist with offices in Ridgewood, submitted claims for psychotherapy services rendered to employees of the Newark Board of Education. According to the State, all of the claims were false because no services were provided.
The testimony at trial revealed that Lichtman obtained the name, social security number and other pertinent information of different people covered by the State Health Benefits Program. Lichtman would submit a claim under an individual's name. When he received payment, the employee received 25% of the payment. School board employees who steered other employees to Lichtman received a $750 referral fee. Over the course of the conspiracy, Lichtman received over $2,000,000 from the State Health Benefits Program.
Defendant became implicated in the waning days of the conspiracy. In March 1994, defendant was a security officer at Camden Middle School. One afternoon in early March 1994, Bertha Johnson, a custodial worker at Camden Middle School, approached defendant and asked if she had "heard about this doctor giving some money." Defendant replied that she had not heard of him. Soon thereafter, Johnson's mother, Shirley Burns, arrived at the school and Johnson introduced defendant to her mother. Burns was a runner for Lichtman. According to Burns, defendant and she spoke for a few minutes. At the end of the conversation, Burns gave Lichtman's phone number to defendant.
In a statement given on August 30, 1995, defendant stated that Lichtman contacted her at home about one week after her conversation with Johnson and Burns. Lichtman asked her to verify her social security number and mailing address. He informed her she could expect to receive "at least $2,000." On March 28, 1994, Lichtman submitted false claims to the benefits program for services purportedly supplied to defendant. Several weeks later, Lichtman received payment for the claims and remitted $1,900 to defendant and $750 to Burns.
Defendant was indicted on four charges: second degree conspiracy to commit the crime of theft by deception in excess of $75,000 (Count One), second degree conspiracy to commit the crime of official misconduct (Count Two), third degree theft by deception (Count Six), and second degree official misconduct (Count Seven). The overt acts in support of the conspiracy to commit theft by deception were the submission of false claims on behalf of Lauren Abdussabur, Deborah Taft and her dependents, and defendant. The State Health Benefits Program paid $125,309.50 to Lichtman for these false claims. Lichtman received $7,600 for the false claims submitted in defendant's name. The overt acts in support of the second degree conspiracy to commit official misconduct charge were the receipt of payments for the claims submitted utilizing Taft and defendant's names. In this appeal, we must ...