Brooklyn man busted for allegedly selling bogus union memberships in Corona home

Howard Beach
Five Romanian nationals living in Queens were arrested Thursday and criminally charged hours later in Brooklyn federal court for allegedly skimming ATMs across the borough to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from more than 600 victims, according to federal prosecutors.
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A Brooklyn man has been charged with grand larceny and other crimes for conning people eager to join the Mason Tenders Local 79 Union by offering them memberships for cash even though he didn’t have the authority to do so, according to Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz.

Jofre Ortega, 54, of Gratton Street in Bushwick, was arraigned before Queens Criminal Court Judge Diego Freire Tuesday on a complaint charging him with grand larceny, petit larceny and scheme to defraud.

According to the charges, between September 2019 and March 2021, Ortega allegedly promised at least nine individuals that he could get them into the union, but only if they paid him between $500 and $1,000 each.

Katz said many of the victims spoke to the defendant about their desire to join the union. Ortega allegedly told each one of them that he could secure membership for them at a cost. Some of the victims, both men and women, met with the defendant at a home on 107th Street in Corona. There, the defendant allegedly collected $1,500 from each of the victims. While Ortega is a member of the Labor 79 Union, he is not authorized to grant membership to anyone.

”The defendant, in this case, is accused of taking advantage of his position as a union member and knowledge of Local 79 to line his pockets,” Katz said. “More than a dozen individuals, laborers who sought to earn better pay for their hard work, were allegedly conned by this defendant into giving him cash for entry into the Mason Tenders Union. I want to thank the union’s leadership for ringing this case to our attention. The defendant is now charged with serious crimes for taking advantage of others to feed his own greed.”

Judge Friere ordered the defendant to return to court on May 3. Ortega faces between 1 ⅓ to 4 years in prison if convicted.

“Local 79’s collective bargaining agreements are written to put rewards of a hard day’s work in the hands of construction laborers who build our city from the ground up,” Mason Tenders District Council Business Manager Robert Bonanza said. “The heinous conduct described in today’s criminal complaint endangers the availability and creation of middle-class union construction jobs. Simply put, it is wrong and illegal for anyone outside of Local 79 to be involved in the distribution of the union’s memberships, let alone personally profiting off the opportunities they engender. We applaud DA Katz for bringing this case and in so doing protecting the good-paying construction jobs the union has fought so hard to create.”