A.G. Schneiderman Arrests Sandy Scammer Who Stole Tens Of Thousands Of Dollars By Posing As A Storm Victim
By Misrepresenting Herself, Fraudster Caterina Curatolo Stole More Than $87K In Benefits And Services
Schneiderman: Scammers Who Trade On Tragedy Will Be Exposed And Punished
NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the arrest of Caterina M. Curatolo, a scammer who obtained more than $87,000 in benefits by falsely claiming to have been a victim of Superstorm Sandy. An extensive investigation by the Attorney General’s Auto Insurance Fraud Unit (“AIFU”) revealed that Curatolo engaged in an elaborate scheme to defraud city and federal relief agencies, a private insurance company and charitable organizations by representing herself as a Sandy evacuee.
Curatolo was charged with Grand Larceny in the Second Degree (a Class “C” felony), Insurance Fraud in the Third Degree (a Class “D” felony), Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (a Class “D” felony), Insurance Fraud in the Fourth Degree (a Class “E” felony), Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree (a Class “E” felony) and multiple Counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree (a Class “E” felony) and Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree (a Class “E felony). If convicted, defendant Curatolo faces a maximum sentence of 7 years in prison.
“My office will do everything in our power to crack down on anyone who uses a national emergency like Sandy for personal gain,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “We are holding price gougers accountable, taking a hard look at how charities spend Sandy-related donations and are making sure that no one gets away with abusing programs intended to help real victims. Today’s arrest shows that scammers who trade on tragedy will be exposed and punished.”
“More than 3,000 individuals have been served by New York City’s Hotel Program in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, connecting households with housing and necessary services,” said New York City Homeless Services Commissioner Michele Ovesey. “We are grateful to our partners- city, state and federal- for ensuring the City Hotel Program and related resources are preserved for those most in need while we work diligently to return all New Yorkers back to their communities.”
Hurricane Sandy descended upon New York City and surrounding areas on October 29, 2012, causing enormous damage and displacing thousands of New York City residents. In early November, the City contracted with approximately 50 hotels to provide interim housing for those evacuees by creating the New York City Hotel and Interim Placement Program ("Hotel Program"). At the same time, the New York City Mayor's Office established the Mayor's Office of Housing Recovery Operations ("HRO") to help administer housing accommodations to Sandy evacuees. All who were placed in the Hotel Program were assigned case managers and given housing, medical, and financial resources.
According to the Attorney General's felony complaint, filed in Queens County Criminal Court, Curatolo falsely represented herself as a Sandy evacuee in order to obtain free hotel rooms and other benefits. Although she represented to HRO that her residence at 59-13 159th Street in Fresh Meadows, Queens was rendered uninhabitable by Sandy, the Attorney General’s investigation revealed that the damage pre-dated the storm. AIFU investigators determined that the damage to the house had been present since at least the summer of 2011. The investigation also identified FEMA records indicating that Curatolo made a similar claim for damage to the roof after Hurricane Irene in 2011.
The Attorney General’s investigation further revealed that although Curatolo represented to multiple agencies that she was rendered homeless due to the uninhabitable condition of 59-13 159th Street, in fact she owns a second residence next door, at 59-17 159th Street. During the course of the investigation, undercover officers observed Curatolo going to both residences to pick up her mail, and utility records show that services continued to be supplied to at 59-13 159th Street.
As a result of her misrepresentations to HRO, Curatolo was provided with free accommodations at three hotels in Queens and Brooklyn. Between November 17, 2012 and December 20, 2012, she was placed in the Quality Inn, located at 30-03 40th Avenue, Long Island City, Queens at a cost to the City of approximately $5,600. Between December 1, 2012 and February 21, 2013, she was placed in the LaGuardia Plaza Hotel, located 104-04 Ditmars Boulevard, East Elmhurst, Queens at a cost to the City of approximately $28,386.83. Beginning on February 20, 2013, Ms. Curatolo was placed in the Holiday Inn Express located at 625 Union Street, Brooklyn where she was still residing at the time of her arrest by AIFU investigators, at a cost to the City of approximately $36,480. All in all, Ms. Curatolo was provided housing as a Sandy evacuee for more than 269 days, at a cost of approximately $83,500.
The Attorney General’s criminal complaint further alleges that in addition to free lodging, based on her representations as a Sandy evacuee, Curatolo was provided with additional benefits including a one-time payment of $250 by HRA for the purchase of food allegedly lost in Sandy and an American Red Cross debit card in the amount of $100 per week to be used for the purchase of food. In all, Curatolo was given a total of $3,590 to spend on food. Instead, she spent some of the money at the following locations: Best Buy, Dressbarn, Marshalls, Fabco Shoes, Eric Shoes, Optical Boutique, Exclusive Eyes and Scoresense.com (a website for checking credit reports).
In addition to her false claims for housing and other benefits, the Attorney General’s complaint further alleges that Curatolo made a fraudulent auto insurance claim, alleging that her car was a total loss due to water damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. An insurance company inspection of the vehicle determined that the car showed no signs of water damage.
The Attorney General thanks the following partners for their valuable assistance in this case: the New York City Mayor’s Office, Office of Housing Recovery Operations; the New York City Department of Homeless Services; the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the New York City Housing Authority; the New York State Department of Financial Services; the Federal Emergency Management Agency; National Insurance Crime Bureau, GEICO; Tower Insurance Company of New York; and the American Red Cross.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Milton Yu of the Auto Insurance Fraud Unit, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Stephanie Swenton and Bureau Chief Gail Heatherly of the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Kelly Donovan. The case was investigated by Investigator Kevin McCann and Legal Analyst Paul Strocko, under the supervision of AIFU Supervising Investigators Edward Keegan and Natalie Shifrin, Deputy Chief Leonard D'Alessandro, and Chief Dominick Zarella of the Investigations Bureau.
The charges against the defendants are accusations and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.