A Fresh Meadows woman was arrested Tuesday by for allegedly scamming more than $87,000 in benefits, claiming she was a victim of Hurricane Sandy.
Caterina M. Curatolo, 48, of 59-13 159 St., was charged with grand larceny, insurance fraud, scheme to defraud and multiple counts of offering a false instrument for filing and falsifying business records. If convicted, she faces up to seven years in prison.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in announcing the arrest said his office will do everything possible to crack down on anyone who uses a national emergency like Sandy for personal gain. “Today’s arrest shows that scammers who trade on tragedy will be exposed and punished,” Schneiderman added.
Curatolo, who lists herself on the internet as founder, president, CEO and service provider of Service International Inc., is a singer. She also serves as a vice president of the Federation of Italian American Organizations of Queens.
In 2004, Borough President Helen Marshall named Curatolo as one of 10 citizens of distinction. She was cited for serving on the borough president’s Advisory Council for Persons with Disabilities, a board member of the Queens Independent Living Center and as a past recipient of the borough president’s Award for People with Disabilities.
Her Facebook page describes her as a piano and vocal teacher who attended Francis Lewis High School.
According to the attorney general’s complaint, which was filed in Queens Criminal Court, Curatolo falsely represented herself as a Sandy evacuee in order to get free hotel rooms and other benefits.
She told officials that her residence on 159th Street was uninhabitable due to Sandy, but Schneiderman’s investigation revealed that the damage to the house pre-dated the storm, going at least back to the summer of 2011. Sandy occurred at the end of last October.
The investigation also showed that Curatolo made a similar claim for damage to the roof after Hurricane Irene in 2012.
According to Schneiderman, the investigation also revealed that although Curatolo told multiple agencies that she was rendered homeless due to the uninhabitable conditions in her home, she actually owns a second residence next door, at 59-17 159 St.
Records show that during the investigation, undercover officers observed Curatolo going to both residences to pick up her mail and utility records show that services continued to be supplied to her at 59-13 159 St., the attorney general said.
Due to her alleged scam, she was provided with free accommodations at hotels in Queens and Brooklyn. She stayed at the Quality Inn in Long Island City, the LaGuardia Plaza Hotel in East Elmhurst and most recently at the Holiday Inn Express in Brooklyn, where she was still residing at the time of her arrest. Her housing costs, for more than 269 days, totaled $83,500.
She also received additional benefits of $250 for the purchase of food allegedly lost in Sandy and an American Red Cross debit card for $100 per week for food, for a total of $3,590. Authorities say instead of using the money for food she spent it at such locations as Best Buy, Dress Barn, Marshalls, Fabco Shoes and Optical Boutique.
In addition, Curatolo allegedly made a fraudulent auto insurance claim, reporting that her car was a total loss due to water damage from the hurricane. An insurance company inspection determined that the car showed no signs of water damage.
Attempts to reach Curatolo were unsuccessful. Her home phone has been disconnected.
The Borough President’s Office reported that although Curatolo was appointed to Marshall’s Domestic Violence Task Force, she never attended any meetings.