Elizabeth landlord indicted for sexual crimes against 30 victims

The owner of hundreds of rental units scattered across 18 residential properties in Elizabeth who was arrested in June of 2021 was indicted last Thursday for committing sexual offenses against 30 tenants over a number of years, Union County Prosecutor William A. Daniel, Elizabeth Police Director Earl Graves and Elizabeth Police Chief Giacomo Sacca jointly announced today.

The 42 count indictment charges Joseph Centanni, 75, of Mountainside with 23 counts of second-degree sexual assault and 19 counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual contact.  The alleged crimes took place at various times from 2013 to 2020, with male and female victims ranging in age from 22 to 61.

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 tenants or prospective tenants who were homeless, about to be evicted, or otherwise struggling financially, according to Special Victims Unit Supervisor and Assistant Prosecutor Caroline Lawlor, who is prosecuting the case.

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. He also purportedly threatened tenants who hesitated or refused his advances with eviction or other retaliatory measures. 

The ongoing investigation into Centanni’s activities has been led by Special Victims Unit Detective Joanne Son, and assisted by Elizabeth Police Department Detective Louis Demondo, Special Agent Khela Vazquez of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Civil Rights Division of the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey.  Anyone with information about this matter is still urged to contact Union County Prosecutor’s Office Detective Joanne Son at (908) 477-1698.

Convictions on second-degree crimes are commonly punishable by terms of 5 to 10 years in state prison on each count and those for fourth-degree crimes by up to 18 months in prison.

Centanni remains free on court-ordered pretrial monitoring pending the outcome of his case.

These criminal charges are mere accusations. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.