By Rich Bockmann
The Queens district attorney’s office announced last week that two brothers from Long Island would be charged under the state’s hate crime law with cleaning out the pockets of the borough’s elderly residents.
According to the DA’s office, Bruce Wimmer, 29, of Half Circle Drive in Holbrook, and his brother Michael Cristiano, 32, of Hewlett Avenue in Patchogue, are alleged to have run an unlicensed chimney contracting business in the city, stealing more than $30,000 from three elderly homeowners for chimney and roof work that was never done.
“This alleged crime is particularly egregious as the defendants are accused of targeting elderly homeowners,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said in a press release.
“It is charged that once they managed to get their foot in the door, they used high-pressure sales tactics to steal substantial amounts of additional monies from their victims by telling them that more and more work needed to be done and that if they didn’t pay, a lien would be placed on their properties and they would be forced to move. In two instances, it is alleged that the defendants drove their victims to the bank to collect the money.”
Operating under the business Reliable Chimney Inc., or a false name, American Chimney, the brothers and other individuals are accused of defrauding homeowners by doing either no chimney work or minimal work and then overcharging them, the DA’s office said.
The defendants called homeowners and said they were in the neighborhood and then stopped by within the next couple of days to inspect their chimneys, Brown said.
In one case, the defendants are charged with stealing $4,100 from a 79-year-old Flushing female homeowner who was told her chimney was in dangerous need of repair and required a new lining system and additional work, according to the DA.
An independent company examined the chimney and revealed the liner was not recently installed and the additional work was never performed, the DA said.
The defendants allegedly ran a similar scam on a 94-year-old East Elmhurst female homeowner to net $2,850 and a 72-year-old Fresh Meadows homeowner for more than $18,000, according to the DA’s office.
After receiving a referral from the city Department of the Aging in January, the DA’s office began its investigation, and the two brothers were arraigned on charges of — among others — third-degree grand larceny as a hate crime, for which they each face up to 15 years in prison if convicted, the DA’s office said.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.