A Brooklyn couple will spend time behind bars after using fake charitable causes to solicit donations from numerous Queens firehouses, businesses and residents, prosecutors announced.
Vincent Fina, 30, was sentenced to one to three years in prison on Jan. 31, according to Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas. Co-defendant and wife Brittney Schmidt, 31, was previously sentenced to one year.
According to the charges, Fina and Schmidt were first approached by authorities from the Lynbrook Police Department in February 2017 when they were seen entering and exiting businesses in the area with their 11-year-old son. The duo told authorities they were collecting money for “Gianni’s Fight,” a cause to fund funeral expenses for a young boy who died of a brain tumor. Police issued the couple a summons and allowed them to leave, authorities said.
Upon further investigation, the detectives learned the Brooklyn couple misappropriated the story of Gianni, a young boy from Staten Island who was suffering from brain cancer. The child’s family confirmed with authorities that they had not authorized the duo to collect on their behalf or received any of the funds.
Fina and Schmidt were arrested on March 3 and re-arrested on March 20 after additional details emerged, prosecutors said. Evidence showed the defendants collected “hundreds of dollars” from donors in Nassau, Brooklyn and Queens in previous months. In July 2016, they told donors they were collecting money used to send kids with cancer to camp.
Authorities also discovered the defendants and their son collected money for “Gianni’s benefit” from several Queens firehouses in October 2016.
In addition to coaching their 11-year old son to assist in soliciting donations, the couple kept him out of school in order to assist them in the scam, prosecutors said.
Fina and Schmidt each pleaded guilty in September to a scheme to defraud, a class-E felony, and subsequently failed to report to the Nassau County Probation Department and court on their scheduled dates. They were both returned to the court on bench warrants.
“These defendants preyed on the generosity of our neighbors and the plight of a sick child when they created a fake charity to line their own pockets,” Singas said. “Thanks to the good work of the Lynbrook Police Department and our prosecutors, these scammers will be held accountable.”