HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — CBS2 was first to tell you about the heartless con artists accused of collecting money they claimed was for cancer children, only to pocket it.
It seems that their brazen scheme went on for months and victimized dozens of unsuspecting donors.
30-year-old Brittany Schmidt and her 29-year-old husband Vincent Fina of Brooklyn turned themselves in two weeks after they were first arrested for using a five-year-old cancer patient’s photo to collect money for a fake funeral.
“We knew from their own statements they had been doing this at least four months,” Nassau County Assistant District Attorney Diane Peres said. “Now we learn they had been doing it at least eight months collecting not hundreds, but thousands of dollars.”
No apologies Monday from the accused con artists as they hid underneath hoods and jackets following their latest appearance in court, where prosecutors unraveled a troubling tale.
Schmidt, a medical assistant, and Fina, a construction worker, lost their jobs before police say they prayed on the generosity and goodwill of strangers on behalf of a boy they don’t even know — five-year-old Gianni Incandela, of Staten Island, who has a brain tumor.
The child’s mother, Kelly, said friends warned her that scammers lifted her son’s photo from a legitimate GoFundMe page.
The boy’s grandmother, Dee Tirago, managed to take a photo of the suspects when they, by chance, walked into her Brooklyn office.
“I told them ‘I’m taking your picture and make sure everyone knows you guys are a scam’,” she told CBS2’s Dave Carlin.
The couple allegedly went door to door in Queens, Brooklyn, and Nassau County — to fire stations, police precincts, and businesses, often arriving by train according to the DA’s office.
Danny Dombal of Baldwin fell for the ruse.
“Just a shame, every angle there is,” he tells CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan. “They came in and they pleaded for money for someone who had brain cancer.”
Dombal says he wrote the couple a check for $50 — made out to the suspect who he was told was the victim’s father.
In reality, Fina and Schmidt have a son, 11-years-old and healthy, who investigators say was used as part of the scheme.
“They did several charitable scams,” Peres said Monday. “They started out with their 11-year-old son allegedly saying he had leukemia.”
A judge released the couple to probation, and Peres says they’re headed straight for 28-day drug treatment.
Family court judges are now trying to determine how much school the suspect’s 11-year-old son — now in the care of his grandparents — may have lost as a result of his alleged participation in the scams.
Both Schmidt and Fina pleaded not guilty to the newest charges.