New Jersey landlord charged with sex crimes against 20 tenants

ELIZABETH, New Jersey (WABC) -- A landlord in New Jersey is under arrest, accused of forcing 20 tenants into sex acts in exchange for rent.

Prosecutors say 74-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 was first accused of sex crimes against 13 tenants in March. On Thursday, prosecutors announced similar crimes against a group of additional victims.

Centanni, who owns hundreds of rental units across 18 residential properties in Elizabeth, was charged with five additional counts of second-degree sexual assault and seven additional counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual contact, bringing the total number of alleged victims for whom he has now been charged to 20 and the total number of criminal charges against him to 35.

The alleged incidents in question took place at various times from 2013 to 2020, with male and female victims ranging in age from 22 to 61.



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, 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.

Centanni was taken into custody without incident Wednesday morning.

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.

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