(NEW YORK) — A woman claiming to be a victim of superstorm Sandy is accused of defrauding charities, insurance companies and the government out of $87,000 with false claims of hurricane damage.
Catarina Curatolo, 48, was arrested this week on multiple felony charges including insurance fraud, grand larceny and falsifying business records. If convicted, Curatolo faces up to seven years in prison.
The arrest comes after an investigation by the New York Attorney General’s Auto Insurance Fraud Unit. According to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Curatolo made multiple false claims about her Queens-area home being left uninhabitable due to storm damage.
However, state investigators determined the damage to Curatolo’s home, including a large hole in her roof, predated Sandy’s arrival. Additionally the investigators found that Curatolo owns a second house next door and both houses were more than a mile from the designated flood zones affected by last year’s storm.
“She scammed the system in multiple ways for months,” Schneiderman told ABC News affiliate WABC-TV.
Since the storm, Curatolo spent approximately nine months living in different New York hotels, which cost the city approximately $83,000, according to a criminal complaint.
In addition to racking up charges at hotels, Curatolo was given multiple $100 debit cards, totaling approximately $3,500, from the American Red Cross that were supposed to be used for food, according to the criminal complaint. Curatolo is accused of spending this money on shoes, clothing and other unessential items at stores including Best Buy, Marshalls and Fabco Shoes.
“My office will do everything in our power to crack down on anyone who uses a national emergency like Sandy for personal gain,” Schneiderman said in a statement.
Curatolo also allegedly filed a fraudulent auto insurance claim for a Jeep that was ruined by water damage from the storm. An inspector determined there was no sign of water damage.
In 2011 Curatolo received $7,700 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for storm damage to her home related to Hurricane Irene.
Neighbors said that Curatolo’s home had been in disrepair long before Sandy struck and were dismayed to hear about her alleged actions.
Curatolo was released after being arraigned at the Queens County Criminal Court on Monday. She is expected to report back to court on Sept. 23.
The phone line at Curatolo’s residence was no longer in service and her lawyer Elizabeth Pruser did not immediately respond to phone calls.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
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