NEW YORK (AP) – A New York City woman who spent the past 9 1/2 months portraying herself as a victim of Superstorm Sandy is now facing charges that she made it all up to collect insurance money, free hotel lodging and thousands of dollars in relief aid.
Caterina Curatolo, 48, was arrested Monday at a hotel in Brooklyn where she had been staying at taxpayer expense because of her supposed inability to return to her Queens home.
In a series of aid applications and interviews with caseworkers and insurance adjusters, Curatolo had claimed that the house had been had been struck by lightning four times and ruined by flooding during the October storm.
In reality, investigators with the attorney general’s office said, the house sat in a neighborhood far from any flooding and had been in a state of severe disrepair for years, to the point where neighbors had repeatedly complained about its dilapidated state.
The investigation also revealed that Curatolo had made a similar claim about storm damage after Hurricane Irene struck the city in 2011, officials said.
That time, she received more than $7,700 in grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This year, her take was much higher, authorities said. A city program for storm refugees spent $83,500 putting her up in hotel rooms for 269 days. She got another $3,590 in benefits from the Red Cross, according to the criminal complaint.
Curatolo’s arrest “shows that scammers who trade on tragedy will be exposed and punished,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.
Curatolo’s lawyer, Elizabeth Pruser, didn’t immediately return a phone message Tuesday afternoon.
Authorities said Curatolo also filed an auto insurance claim contending that her Jeep Grand Cherokee had been ruined in Sandy’s deluge, but an adjuster with her insurer, GEICO, found none of the telltale signs of flood damage, according to investigators. She filed another homeowner’s insurance claim for more than $15,000, saying that her roof had suffered water damage and that a ceiling had collapsed, the criminal complaint said.
Curatolo was arraigned late Monday at a courthouse in Queens on charges including grand larceny, insurance fraud and falsifying business records. A judge released her pending trial.