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Grand jury indicts former N.J. landlord, accusing him of soliciting sex from 30 tenants, authorities say

Joseph Centanni, 75, targeted male and female tenants or prospective tenants "who were homeless, about to be evicted, or otherwise struggling financially," Union County prosecutors say.

A grand jury indicted a former New Jersey landlord last week on more than three dozen sex charges, accusing him of soliciting sex from tenants who were facing eviction or struggling financially, authorities announced Wednesday.

Joseph Centanni, 75, of Mountainside, is charged in a 42-count indictment listing 23 counts of second-degree sexual assault and 19 counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual contact, Union County Prosecutor William A. Daniel, Elizabeth Police Director Earl Graves and Elizabeth Police Chief Giacomo Sacca said in a joint statement.

A building in Elizabeth, N.J., owned by Joseph Centanni.
A building in Elizabeth, N.J., once owned by Joseph Centanni.Google Maps

The alleged crimes occurred from 2013 to 2020 and included male and female victims ages 22 to 61, the statement said. 

Centanni, the former owner of hundreds of rental units across 18 residential properties, “targeted tenants or prospective tenants who were homeless, about to be evicted, or otherwise struggling financially,” authorities said.

“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.”

Centanni, who was arrested in June 2021, remains free under court-ordered pretrial monitoring pending the outcome of his case, officials said.

Centanni’s lawyer Raymond Londa declined to comment Thursday. Centanni could not immediately be reached for comment.

In December 2021, the Justice Department announced that Centanni had agreed to pay a historic $4.5 million settlement to resolve a Fair Housing Act lawsuit seeking to protect tenants from harassment and discrimination.

The lawsuit alleged Centanni had sexually harassed susceptible tenants for more than 15 years.

The settlement, which federal prosecutors said at the time still had to be approved by the U.S. District Court for New Jersey, “is the largest monetary settlement the department has ever obtained in a case alleging sexual harassment in housing,” the Justice Department said.

It was not immediately clear Thursday whether the settlement had been approved.

Centanni sold all of his properties as part of the settlement, the statement said. He was also permanently banned “from owning and managing residential rental properties in the future.”

Records tied to the settlement indicate Centanni has said he does not own any rental property and is not directly or indirectly performing any property management responsibilities.

Under the terms of the proposed consent decree, Centanni would pay $4,392,950 in damages to tenants and prospective tenants “harmed by his harassment,” authorities said.

He would also pay an additional $107,050 civil penalty to the U.S. government, the maximum civil penalty allowed under the Fair Housing Act, federal prosecutors said.