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Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni holds a press conference to explain 'Operation on the Ropes.' Asbury Park Press

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FREEHOLD - A former administrator with the Affordable Housing Alliance has pleaded guilty to stealing over $400,000 from the nonprofit housing developer in Neptune, Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni announced in a news release.

Debra Agresti, 57, of Long Branch, pleaded guilty Friday to second-degree theft. She admitted to making unauthorized purchases of numerous gift cards to pay for personal expenses, while obtaining various goods and services from multiple vendors, according to Gramiccioni. 

Agresti pleaded guilty in front of state Superior Court Judge David F. Bauman. She faces up to five years in state prison at her sentencing on March 27.

An investigation by officials revealed that from August 2012 to March 2019, Agresti, who was the director of administration for the operation, purchased gift cards with the company's credit card, the release said.

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In order to hide her misuse of the credit card, Agresti intercepted the monthly credit card statements and created false invoices that matched the amounts she had spent on the gift cards. The invoices she made were purchases of simple office supplies.

Agresti stole $440,014.22 and was the only one involved in the fraudulent case, Gramiccioni said in the release.

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The Affordable Housing Alliance first hired Agresti as an administrative assistant in 2007 before being promoted to director of administration.

In 2018, the company's internal accounting department found evidence of possible fraud and quickly contacted the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office to investigate the incident, the Affordable Housing Alliance said in a news release.

"As the Affordable Housing Alliance enters 2020, it is with great pride that we announce that this fraud case has been brought to a close," Affordable Housing Alliance CEO Donna Blaze said. "Furthermore, corporate insurance has repaid 100 percent of the stolen funds. All funding partners have been notified and reimbursements made."

Blaze said internal controls have been put in place to ensure this crime is not repeated.

The alliance offers rental and homeownership help, mortgage and foreclosure counseling, utility assistance and home buyer education. Since it started in 1991, the alliance has developed over 550 homes in Monmouth, Ocean and Middlesex counties and has helped over a thousand families and individuals buy their first home.

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Joshua Chung is the 9-5 breaking news reporter. A lifelong Jersey Shore resident, he is a recent graduate of Michigan State University. Contact him at jchung@gannettnj.com, 732-557-5748 or on Twitter @Joshchunggg

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