MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – A Brooklyn couple admitted in court Thursday that they collected thousands of dollars for themselves in a charity scam, using their son as a pawn.
As CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, the donations were pocketed and never made it to cancer victims.
Brittany Schmidt and her husband, Vincent Fina, entered Nassau Criminal Court six months after their fake cancer charity unraveled.
“They started out with their 11-year-old son, allegedly saying that he had leukemia,” Nassau County Assistant District Attorney Diane Peress said.
But their son wasn’t sick at all. They had coached and even kept him out of school to help con strangers into donations.
The scheme went on for nearly a year and included using a photo of a real 5-year-old cancer patient – Gianni Incandela of Staten Island — to collect money for a fake funeral.
“It’s unbelievable,” his mother, Kelly, said at the time when friends alerted her that Gianni’s legitimate GoFundMe page had been tampered and lifted by the couple.
“I told them, ‘I’m taking your picture and make sure everyone knows you guys are a scam,” Gianni’s grandmother said.
She helped lead police to the couple by snapping their picture when they tried even to con her.
“I was very happy to hear that both pleaded guilty. I finally feel like some justice has been served and they will not get away with what they did,” Kelly said following Thursday’s court hearing. “Although nothing can change the hurt they caused us, it does give us some satisfaction knowing they did not get away with what they did.”
Schmidt, a college-educated medical assistant, and Fina, in construction, lost their jobs and turned to heroin, McLogan reported. On Thursday, they pleaded guilty in the scheme to defraud.
The guilty plea means immediate mandated drug treatment, followed by 60 hours of community service and five years of supervised probation.
“It is certainly a horrible thing. They had problems. Desperate people do desperate things. And they’ve taken steps to cure it,” defense attorney Rob Bekoff said, adding they’ve already apologized to the victims.
Schmidt and Fina admitted to taking trains from Brooklyn to Lynbrook and Baldwin to convince good people to give to them.
The couple also admitted to soliciting donations at fire stations and police precincts in New York City and on Long Island.
“It’s a terrible thing to have innocent people victimized by this,” said Danny Dombal, a victim of a charity scam. Asked whether he felt satisfied with the guilty plea, he added, “As long as justice is served and they get the right treatment.”
The couple’s 11-year-old son has been living with his grandmother and will remain with her while his parents complete the mandates and conditions of their guilty pleas.