NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Some people were just looking for a place to live in Upper Manhattan, but they ended up falling victim to a scam.

As CBS2’s Dick Brennan reported, the residents said they lost a fortune when they put down money for affordable housing units in a building in the eastern section of Inwood.

Anna Villega said she was devastated to learn that she and her two little ones – 5-year-old Jarlene and 2-year-old Najelis – are out in the cold.

She said a scammer took her money — $13,000 – along with their hopes for an affordable rental apartment for her family.

“I’m so sad,” Villega said in Spanish. “It was my dream.”

A scammer also shattered the dreams of Evelyn Hernandez’s family, taking $16,000, but never delivering on a promise for an apartment at 552 Academy St. in Inwood.

The Academy Street building was renovated by the city so it could offer affordable housing to people in the community. A lottery for was held for the 40 units, and a total of 50,000 people applied.

The alleged con artist convinced Villega and Hernandez that they had beaten the long lottery odds, and they would get an apartment if they forked over the cash. They were even given keys their places.

But there were no apartments, and for Villega, it was doubly heartbreaking.

“She has two other older children in El Salvador, and she couldn’t even send them a Christmas gift, because she saved every single penny for this apartment,” said New York state Sen. Adriano Espaillat (D-Manhattan).

Villega and her children were left with nowhere to stay, and for now will go to a shelter.

“I worked so hard,” she said in Spanish. And now she has nothing.

Authorities said the scammer is known to the community, and may already have fled the country. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office was investigating.

Authorities also said there could be many more victims of the scam. They believe the con artist made off with as much as $100,000.


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