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When tragedy strikes it's not nice to second-guess alleged victims and ask if they really need help. But afterward, if it becomes apparent that a person was not deserving of the emergency assistance they received, the state will make them pay.
That is what happened to a Queens, New York woman who claimed that she was a Hurricane Sandy victim and lived in hotels on the state's dime. She also took food money from the American Red Cross, which she spent on clothes. Caterina Curatolo, 51, this week pled guilty to filing false reports and collecting nearly $90,000 in benefits intended for Hurricane Sandy victims. She was placed on probation and ordered to pay restitution.
Curatolo will have to pay the state back while she is on a three-year probation period. If she violates the terms of her conditional release, she could face four years in prison for filing false business reports to defraud the government. She owes nearly $85,000 in hotel fees and a few thousand dollars to the American Red Cross.
Investigators discovered that Curatolo spent her food money at retail clothing stores and that her house was in disrepair before Hurricane Sandy. In other words, she got money for shelter and more based on false reports seeking benefits from FEMA, Red Cross, and city agencies claiming that the October 2012 storm, Hurricane Sandy, left her homeless.
According to the New York Post, Judge Gene Lopez chided Curatolo before announcing the sentence. "You exploit a relief system designed to help people severely damaged by Sandy. You stole money from people who needed it after Sandy. You didn't deserve it. It's deplorable and you should be ashamed of yourself."
But Curatolo herself reportedly said nothing at her appearance ... beyond what was required to take the plea presumably. Her lawyer indicated to the New York Daily News that she still thinks she didn't do anything wrong.
Obviously, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman disagrees strongly. He told reporters, "In a time of crisis, our resources must be directed to those in need and protected from fraudsters. This conviction shows that scammers who trade on tragedy will be exposed and punished."