Condo kickback conspirators caught

After another conspirator previously pleaded guilty, two New Jersey men were charged with participating in a kickback scheme to defraud the owner of a condominium complex in Jersey City of $470,000.

According to U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger, Ranaldo Bennett, 40, of Jersey City, and Jonathan Smith, 56, of Montclair, New Jersey, were each charged in a three-count complaint with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering.

Bennett and Smith conspired with Obedos to inflate charges for repairs at the complex and split the excess money as kickbacks.

Smith was arrested Thursday, August 10, 2023, and had his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Edward S. Kiel in Newark federal court.

Bennett was arrested earlier in the week and had his initial appearance before Judge Kiel on Aug. 7, 2023.

Nathaniel Obedos, 56, of Jersey City, pleaded guilty on July 6, 2023, before U.S. District Judge Karen M. Williams in Camden federal court to an information charging him with conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

“From November 2018 through October 2020, Obedos conspired with Bennett and Smith to engage in a kickback scheme to defraud the owner of the condominium complex,” said a release from the U.S. Attorney. “Bennett was the complex’s lead property manager and Smith was its superintendent. Bennett and Smith steered repair and maintenance work to Obedos and his company in exchange for kickbacks from Obedos.”

“Bennett and Smith falsified invoices that grossly inflated the value of Obedos’s work,” said the release. “Relying on those fake invoices, the complex paid Obedos the inflated prices, and Obedos then used the excess money to pay Bennett and Smith kickbacks.”

“In total, the complex paid Obedos and his company over $1 million for work that was actually valued at $500,000. Obedos used the overpayments to pay $460,000 in kickbacks to Bennett and over $10,700 in kickbacks to Smith,” said the release.

The charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years, and the money laundering charges each carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Each charge also carries a maximum fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense, whichever is greatest. Obedos’ sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 9, 2023.

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