Joseph Centanni, Elizabeth, NJ landlord indicted on 42 charges demanding sex favors from 30 low income tenants forced to comply or face eviction.
Not the landlord of the year. A former New Jersey landlord has been indicted for demanding sexual favors from 30 low-income tenants in exchange for housing help, prosecutors said.
Joseph Centanni, 75, of Mountainside was charged last week in a 42-count indictment that includes 23 counts of second-degree sexual assault and 19 counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual contact, according to the Union County Prosecutor’s Office on Wednesday.
Centanni owned 18 low-income residential rental properties in the city of Elizabeth — each ranging from four to 100 units.
The landlord allegedly bribed men and women ages 22 to 61 to engage in unwanted sexual favors between 2013 and 2020.
‘The defendant allegedly solicited the sex acts from his victims as a quid pro quo, agreeing to offer them rent reductions, a delay in an eviction, or other forms of financial assistance in exchange,’ the statement said. ‘He also purportedly threatened tenants who hesitated or refused his advances with eviction or other retaliatory measures.’
15 years of coercion, sexual abuse & harassment
The alleged sexual acts are reported to have taken place in boiler rooms, laundry rooms as well as a ‘model apartment’.
Centanni was arrested in June 2021 but had remained free on court-ordered pretrial monitoring pending the outcome of his case.
A year ago, the Justice Department announced that Centanni agreed to pay $4.5 million to resolve a Fair Housing Act lawsuit that looked to protect tenants from harassment and discrimination.
Centanni sold all of his properties as part of the settlement and was permanently banned from owning or managing residential properties. He did not admit to any wrongdoing in settling the lawsuit.
The agreement was the largest monetary settlement the DOJ has ever obtained in a case alleging sexual harassment in housing and settled a federal lawsuit alleging Centanni sexually harassed his tenants over a 15-year period the nypost reports.
Centanni subjected residents and prospective tenants to ‘severe or pervasive sexual harassment,’ according to the lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice in 2020.
He allegedly demanded oral sex or touched the tenants inappropriately and without their consent in exchange for helping them apply for rental assistance to stay in their homes.
Centanni and his properties also benefited greatly from federal Section 8 housing vouchers, which netted him over $100,000 in Housing Choice Voucher payments each month.
The $4.5 million he has agreed to pay will be distributed to his victims through a compensation fund, according to the DOJ.
The former landlord has also settled at least seven lawsuits filed by previous tenants in state courts, according to NJ.com.