New Jersey landlord charged with sex crimes against 13 tenants

ELIZABETH, New Jersey (WABC) -- A landlord in New Jersey is under arrest, accused of forcing more than a dozen tenants into sex acts in exchange for rent.

Prosecutors say between 2016 and 2020, 73-year-old Joseph Centanni targeted tenants in Elizabeth who were about to be evicted or otherwise struggling financially.

They say he solicited sex from the alleged victims in a quid pro quo and offered them rent reductions, a delay in an eviction, or other forms of financial assistance.

Centanni, who owns hundreds of rental units scattered across 18 residential properties in Elizabeth, is charged with eight counts of second-degree sexual assault, one count of second-degree attempted sexual assault, and 14 counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual contact.

ALSO READ: Illegal club in Manhattan busted for 2nd time this year
EMBED More News Videos

Deputies say organizers did not have a liquor license and were selling alcohol to minors.

Acting Union County Prosecutor Lyndsay Ruotolo, Elizabeth Police Chief Giacomo Sacca and Director Earl Graves made the joint announcement Monday.

"Using a position of power and privilege to prey on the vulnerabilities and desperations of others is not just wrong," Ruotolo said. "In this case, it is also criminal."

Officials said a long-term investigation initiated by a referral from the Elizabeth Police Department and led by the Prosecutor's Office's Special Victims Unit revealed that Centanni targeted similar victims, both male and female, with each reporting they felt as though they had no choice but to concede to Centanni's demands.

They cited dire personal circumstances such as trying to maintain housing for their young children, authorities said.

According to Assistant Prosecutor Caroline Lawlor, who is prosecuting the case, the victims would meet Centanni in his office on the 200 block of West Jersey Street in downtown Elizabeth, and the sex acts took place in laundry, storage, or boiler rooms at his properties -- or in a sample apartment unit meant to be shown to prospective renters.

MORE NEWS: Mars rover Perseverance sends back grinding, squealing sounds of driving
EMBED More News Videos

NASA's newest Mars rover has sent back the first-ever sounds of driving on the red planet.

Centanni was taken into custody without incident at his office on Friday morning, and he faces 5 to 10 years in prison if convicted.

It is believed that there may be additional victims of Centanni who have yet to come forward. Anyone with information about Centanni's activities is urged to contact Detective Son of the Union County Prosecutor's Office at 908-477-1698.

* Get Eyewitness News Delivered
* More New Jersey news
* Send us a news tip
* Download the abc7NY app for breaking news alerts
* Follow us on YouTube
Submit a News Tip
Copyright © 2021 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.