EAST MEADOW, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Thousands of Nassau County homeowners could be getting back money they feared they’d lost in an alleged tax scam.

On Thursday, the New York State Attorney General filed a lawsuit against the company he said was trying to pass itself off as government sanctioned.

As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, the joy of buying a first home was gone for the Ciardullos, after realizing they had been duped.

“I can’t believe this is happening to us,” Lauryn Ciardullo said.

Tricked — they said — into signing over their STAR tax rebate to Arie Gal of East Meadow. He bills himself as an advisor for a service they now know is otherwise free.

“I didn’t need him to put a stamp on paperwork,” she said, “I don’t need anyone’s help on that.”

Ciardullo, a Broadway actress, said she filled out an official looking application that came in the mail.

“It looks like it’s from the county,” she said.

She had no idea she was signing away her savings until invoices from ‘Star Exemption Advisor’ came demanding $1,180. In fine print of a document she said she never saw, she’d signed over their entire rebate.

“We had just bought a house, we put our entire life saving into and here this guy is taking $1,000 from us that we desperately need to survive the next month,” she said.

Thousands more like them went to small claims court and found out that what he did is not illegal or criminal.

“He just takes advantage of people. I’m not going to say it’s illegal what he’s doing, but it’s unfair,” attorney Bill Jaye said.

Now, the New York State Attorney General has shut Gal’s company down pending a lawsuit.

Eric Schneiderman called it a shameful scam.

“Filing for a star exemption is now easier than ever, no more paperwork. You can now do it online, but for years it was as simple as filling out this form and sending it to your county assessors office,” he said.

Gal claimed to offer a convenience, but legislator Laura Curran said he preyed on homeowners’ confusion.

“If you want to hire someone legitimately it only cost $25 to get, also very easy to do yourself,” Curran said.

“It’s not a business, it’s a complete scam, and hopefully this is the end of it,” Phil Ciardullo said.

There was no answer at Gal’s home, but his attorney denied the allegations and believes he’ll be vindicated.

The Attorney General is demanding homeowners be repaid $1.5-million.

The lawsuit also seeks freezes on company assets. A court date has been set for February 10.



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