A serial fraudster who preyed on dozens of superstorm Sandy victims has been moved to a community release program after spending less than 200 days in prison.
Jamie Lawson, 43, was transferred last week out of a prison in South Jersey and into the custody of an assessment center, one stop from a work-release program. This revelation has infuriated his victims, at least one of whom is still out of their home because of Lawson’s thievery.
“Oh my God, angry,” Carol Ferraioli told the Asbury Park Press when asked how she felt about Lawson’s transfer out of prison. “That was the first thing out of my mouth when we left the courtroom (after Lawson’s sentencing) — that that man would be out of prison before I was back in my home.”
In July, Lawson was sentenced to a term of 3½ to 10 years in prison after he admitted to fleecing 41 superstorm Sandy victims out of nearly $2 million. See Lawson’s sentencing in the video above this story.
His formula involved contracting with Sandy victims to elevate and rebuild homes. Ultimately, Lawson would spend the money on “personal expenses” and perform little or no work for the homeowner.
Lawson was featured in a Press investigation that exposed the loopholes in New Jersey law that allows felons like Lawson to register as home improvement contractors without a background check to ensure that they aren’t predators who pack up and move to another state when their grift is discovered.
John Ongrady Jr. who was Lawson’s first victim on the Shore, called the news “another slap in the face” but added that he wasn’t blindsided.
“This guy is a conman like you wouldn’t believe. He’s amazing,” said Ongrady, a retiree who lives in Toms River with his wife, Sheila. “Right now, he’s conning these probation people, I know it. You have to talk to this guy to understand.”
Lawson performed some of the work he promised for the Ferraiolis, who were living in the Port Monmouth section of Middletown when Sandy struck. However, doing the job and doing it well are two very different accomplishments.
In the process of elevating their home, which is still up on cribbing today, Lawson ruined the house. It must be lowered, demolished and rebuilt.
Carol Ferraioli told the Press in a recent interview that their financing is nearly in order, and that she and her husband, Anthony, will be reimbursed by the state for the disaster aid money that Lawson stole from them. Still, it may be two years before they are able to move back to their neighborhood, she said.
“It was a 10-year sentence and then it’s that he only has to serve two-and-a-half,” Ferraioli said. “I just get so angry when I think about all this.”
Lawson had a lengthy criminal history by the time he began operations in New Jersey in the wake of Sandy.After he was indicted for on nine felony counts in Ocean County in December 2016, Lawson fled and was on the run for six months.
Eventually, Lawson was arrested by U.S. Marshals in South Carolina and brought back to New Jersey, where he stretched out the legal process by agreeing to plead guilty, then changing his mind before flipping back again.
His sentence required a minimum of 3½ years incarceration, but Lawson was given credit for the 400 days he spent behind bars at the county jail awaiting trial.
At one point before his sentencing, Lawson offered $300,000 in restitution for his victims, but the state could not accept the money because there were no assurances it didn’t come from victims elsewhere, William Scharfenberg, supervising assistant Ocean County prosecutor, has said.
Lawson has criminal records in North Carolina, South Carolina, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and New Jersey. Authorities have said he would travel to states after natural disasters and begin doing home improvement work, taking advantage of vulnerable homeowners who were desperate to get back into their damaged homes.
Lawson was moved to Talbot Hall in Kearny on Feb. 12, according to a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
“When residents reach their treatment goals, they are referred to an appropriate halfway house to begin participation in work-release programs,” reads a description of Talbot Hall on the website of the Education & Health Centers of America, a private company that runs Talbot and five other treatment centers for the state of New Jersey.