A Queens woman has been sentenced for stealing more than $87,000 in benefits from New York City and the American Red Cross, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced Thursday.
Caterina M. Curatolo engaged in an elaborate scheme to defraud government agencies, private insurance companies, and a charitable organization by pretending to be a Sandy evacuee.
“My office will do everything in our power to crack down on those who use a national emergency like Sandy for personal gain,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “In a time of crisis, our resources must be directed to those in need and protected from fraudsters. This conviction shows that scammers who trade on tragedy will be exposed and punished.”
After pleading guilty to falsifying business records, Curatolo, 51, was ordered to pay over $87,000 in restoration to New York City and the American Red Cross. She also admitted to falsifying business records of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) with the purpose of stealing from the agency.
After Hurricane Sandy destroyed the homes of thousands of New Yorkers on October 29, 2012, the city created the New York City Hotel and Interim Placement Program, providing temporary housing for evacuees in 50 hotels.
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Curatolo took advantage of the housing accommodations and filled out an application for benefits from FEMA, according to Schneiderman. She claimed the natural disaster destroyed her residence at 59-13 159th St., in Fresh Meadows. According to the attorney general’s felony complaint, she also applied to the Hotel Program.
Curatolo spent 269 days in all expensive paid hotels in Queens and Brooklyn in three different locations, including the Quality Inn, the LaGuardia Plaza Hotel and the Holiday Inn Express. Curatolo’s housing over the course of nine months cost about $84,475.46.
Aside from housing, Curatolo also stole $3,590 from the American Red Cross in MetroCards, food, medical assistance, and Client Assistance Cards.
The Auto Insurance Fraud Unit helped initiate the investigation into Curatolo after she filed an auto insurance claim stating the storm had ruined her car with water damage. When the insurance company inspected the vehicle no signs of water damage were reported.
Along with paying over $87,000 to New York City and the American Red Cross, she was sentenced on Thursday to a three-year conditional discharge.
“We appreciate the work of Attorney General Schneiderman in resolving this case. The administration is committed to effectively delivering recovery resources to those who need them, and we stand with the Attorney General in affirming that those who seek to defraud victims of a disaster will be held accountable,” said Amy Peterson, director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery, in a statement.