A Queens woman who admitted in 2007 to conning an 85-year-old man out of over $150,000 by tricking him into thinking she was a cancer patient trying to start up a business has been caught in Oklahoma after skipping bail, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said Tuesday.
Natasha Munchkin Marks, 26, defrauded Louis Bruno of Howard Beach in 2006 when Bruno was 85 years old. According to the district attorney’s office, Marks met Bruno at a Howard Beach Waldbaum’s in February 2006. Marks was 18 years old at the time.
“The defendant has learned the old adage the hard way; you can run but you cannot hide from justice,” Brown said.
In a 2006 interview with the Queens Chronicle, Bruno said he fell in love with Marks and even planned on marrying her. Marks even told him she lived in Howard Beach when her last known address, according to Brown, was in Hollis.
That’s when Marks began swindling money from Bruno. Between February and June in 2006, she asked Bruno to give her hundreds of thousands of dollars for medical bills and start-up money for a business venture.
As part of the scheme, Marks asked Bruno to write checks payable to one of her aliases — “Crystal Smith,” which she told him was a friend of hers who would cash the checks.
Other checks were written out by Bruno to “East West Restoration,” a company owned by Marks’ deceased mother. She later endorsed all the checks herself and cashed them at different locations.
Later in 2006, Marks — using her Crystal Smith alias — also filed with the New York City Department of Finance’s Office of City Register as power of attorney on Bruno’s behalf without him knowing in order to gain control over his financial transactions.
She then refinanced Bruno’s home, without him knowing, and withdrew more than half a million dollars in equity from the property.
At the mortgage closing, Marks presented a fake Social Security card and an Illinois driver’s license identifying her as Crystal Smith.
In September 2006, a few weeks after Marks refinanced Bruno’s home, a neighbor and a family member notified authorities of their concerns after seeing Marks around Bruno’s home and discovering some of the suspicious activities. The scheme was uncovered when investigators from DA Brown’s Elder Fraud Unit interviewed Marks.
She was later arrested and pleaded guilty to second- and third-degree grand larceny as a hate crime and agreed to make $150,000 in restitution to Bruno. Under New York State’s Hate Crimes Law, enhanced charges can be filed when defendants commit a larceny and targets his or her victims because of their age when the victim is over 60.
Marks also signed a waiver of extradition as a condition of the plea agreement. She had made partial restitution, but failed to appear for a court date. A warrant was then issued for her arrest and she was sentenced in absentia to two to six years in prison in May 2007.
A year later, Marks was indicted on charges of first-degree bail jumping, punishable by up to seven years in prison, and she has been a fugitive until she was caught by authorities in Oklahoma earlier this month.
The DA’s office did not say exactly when or where in Oklahoma she was captured. She was extradited to New York on Wednesday for arraignment on the bail jumping charges.