A Fresh Meadows woman claiming to be a Sandy victim was arrested for allegedly scamming more than $87,000 in city and federal relief, the state attorney general said.
Caterina Curatolo stayed at hotels on the city’s dime for close to nine months after she claimed she was evacuated and rendered homeless by the October superstorm, according to authorities and a criminal complaint.
She racked up a hotel bill of more than $83,000, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said, and received nearly $3,600 on top of that from the city and American Red Cross to spend on food.
The attorney general’s office said she spent some of the money at electronic, shoe and dress stores.
“I am in desperate need for you all to pray for me and for all the victims of hurricane super sandy [sic], and please pray pray pray for me and us all,” Curatolo wrote on her Facebook page in June.
Schneiderman said Curatolo filed fraudulent claims, blaming Sandy for pre-dated or nonexistent damages to her house and car.
An investigation by his office found roof damages to her home were there since 2011, when she filed a similar claim to FEMA after Hurricane Irene.
Neighbors told The Courier they believed structural damage to her home took place long before the superstorm.
Curatolo’s car also showed no signs of water damage, Schneiderman said, though she allegedly told a car insurance representative her Jeep Grand Cherokee “was full of water,” according to a criminal complaint.
“The whole ceiling and everything was all wet and coming down well,” she allegedly said, “and the car is moldy and mildew-y [sic] now and the car won’t start.”
Neighbors said 159th Street, where Curatolo lives, saw little to no flooding during Sandy.
“There were some branches down. There was rain, but cars were not flooded,” said Abderraham Kamal.
Curatolo’s home is more than a mile from the nearest flood zone and was not located in an evacuation area, officials said.
Neighbor and friend Claudia, who did not want to give her last name, said Curatolo was battling health and family problems.
The 48 year old — who described herself on a social media sites as a reverend, actor, director and producer — also spent years taking care of her ailing mother, the neighbor said.
“I feel very bad for her,” Claudia said. “She needed help, but I guess she took it from the wrong place.”
Curatolo faces multiple charges including grand larceny, insurance fraud and falsifying business records and could serve up to seven years in prison if convicted.
“My office will do everything in our power to crack down on anyone who uses a national emergency like Sandy for personal gain,” Schneiderman said. “Today’s arrest shows that scammers who trade on tragedy will be exposed and punished.”
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