Bill Text: NJ S3335 | 2018-2019 | Regular Session | Introduced


Bill Title: Upgrades crowdfunded thefts; imposes mandatory restitution and fines; requires minimum term of imprisonment.

Spectrum: Partisan Bill (Republican 1-0)

Status: (Introduced) 2019-01-17 - Introduced in the Senate, Referred to Senate Judiciary Committee [S3335 Detail]

Download: New_Jersey-2018-S3335-Introduced.html

SENATE, No. 3335

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

218th LEGISLATURE

 

INTRODUCED JANUARY 17, 2019

 


 

Sponsored by:

Senator  SAMUEL D. THOMPSON

District 12 (Burlington, Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean)

 

 

 

 

SYNOPSIS

     Upgrades crowdfunded thefts; imposes mandatory restitution and fines; requires minimum term of imprisonment.

 

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT

     As introduced.

 


An Act concerning theft involving crowdfunding and supplementing chapter 20 of Title 2C of the New Jersey Statutes.

 

     Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

 

     1.    a.     Crowdfunding theft. A person who violates  N.J.S.2C:20-4 by engaging in crowdfunding shall be guilty of a fourth degree crime if the amount obtained from the crowdfunding source does not exceed $200 in the aggregate.  If the amount obtained from the crowdfunding source exceeds $200 in the aggregate, the person shall be guilty of a crime one degree higher than the underlying offense.

     b.    Notwithstanding the provisions of N.J.S.2C:43-3 and in addition to any other fine or penalty imposed, a person who commits theft in violation of subsection a. of this section shall be sentenced to make restitution to all the individuals who contributed up to the amount of the contribution, and shall be liable for a fine of up to $500 for each crowdfunded contribution the person actually collected or over which the person exercised control.

     c.     The court shall impose a term of imprisonment which shall include the imposition of a minimum term, fixed at, or between, one-third and one-half of the sentence imposed by the court, during which the defendant shall be ineligible for parole, except that a person convicted of a crime of the fourth degree shall be sentenced to not more than 90 days imprisonment.  

     As used in this act, "crowdfunding" means the practice of raising funds for a specific purpose or venture by soliciting money from a number of unidentified individuals using the Internet, including but not limited to a crowdfunding platform.  As used in this act, "crowdfunding" refers to the charitable giving of contributions and offers no financial return to the individuals who contribute.

 

     2.    Fines collected pursuant to subsection b. of section 1 of this act shall be deposited into the fund established pursuant to section 8 of P.L.1984, c.180 (C.52:27D-286) in the Department of Community Affairs for the purpose of providing temporary rental and other housing assistance to persons who are homeless or in imminent danger of losing housing.

 

     3.    This act shall take effect immediately.

 

 

STATEMENT

 

     Crowdfunding is the practice of raising funds by soliciting money from individuals using the Internet, and includes but is not limited to using a crowdfunding platform.  In recent years, a number of scam operations have exploited the generosity of contributors who donate cash to fund charitable causes.  While the actual dollar amount donated by individuals can vary widely, in the aggregate the amounts can total thousands of dollars.  A typical unlawful scheme involves posting a story on an Internet site of an individual facing acute personal hardship either caused by or exacerbated by financial need.  The story is posted as an appeal for funds to alleviate the financial burden of the person in crisis, and transmitted to potential donors by email and social media.  Contributions, upon receipt, are then retained by the fund solicitor or not disposed of as described in the appeal.

     Currently, the crime of theft is graded based upon the amount involved.  Theft by deception, N.J.S.A.2C:20-4, involves obtaining property by deception, or purposely creating or reinforcing a false impression, including but not limited to a false impression that the person is soliciting or collecting funds for a charitable purpose.  This bill increases the degree of the offense if the theft employs a crowdfunding source.  Under the bill, a person who violates N.J.S.2C:20-4 by engaging in crowdfunding shall be guilty of a fourth degree crime if the amount obtained from the crowdfunding source does not exceed $200 in the aggregate.  If the amount obtained from the crowdfunding source exceeds $200 in the aggregate, the person shall be guilty of a crime one degree higher than the underlying theft offense.

     The bill requires that a person convicted under this section shall be sentenced to make restitution and shall be liable to a fine of up to $500 for each crowdfunded contribution the person actually collected or over which the person exercised control.  The fine portion shall be deposited into the fund established pursuant to section 8 of P.L. 1984, c.180 (C.52:27D-286) in the Department of Community Affairs for the purpose of providing temporary rental and other housing assistance to persons who are homeless or in imminent danger of losing housing. 

     The bill further requires a term of imprisonment which shall include the imposition of a minimum term, fixed at, or between, one-third and one-half of the sentence imposed during which the defendant shall be ineligible for parole, except that a person convicted of a crime of the fourth degree shall be sentenced to not more than 90 days imprisonment.

     It is the sponsor's view that crowdfunding theft schemes can undermine the foundation of charitable giving where sums of cash need to be amassed quickly or where individuals seek to respond to a crisis in a quick and immediate way.  The betrayal of trust generated by this type of fraud warrants significant consequences that differ in kind from other types of theft offenses.

     This bill is in response to a recent incident involving charges filed by the Burlington County Prosecutor against a New Jersey couple and a homeless man who allegedly set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds for the homeless man, but who kept the money, which totaled in excess of $400,000, as part of a scheme to defraud contributors.

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