The family of a Staten Island boy with brain cancer said in a Mineola courthouse Wednesday they want the couple who used his story to collect and keep thousands of dollars in donations to be sentenced to community service in a children’s cancer ward.
Brittney Schmidt, 31, and Vincent Fina, 30, of Brooklyn each pleaded guilty in September to a felony charge of scheme to defraud.
Nassau prosecutors say Schmidt and Fina scammed unsuspecting donors at Long Island businesses and city police and fire stations by using 6-year-old Gianni Incandela’s story and photo, and even used some of the money on drugs.
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Robert Bogle agreed Wednesday to delay the couple’s sentencing to Dec. 6 after being told that at least one of the defendants was ill.
The delay was a disappointment to Gianni’s mother and grandmother, who said they came to court with the hope of finally getting some justice after Schmidt and Fina profited from their young loved one’s suffering.
“My grandson is suffering from a very rare brain tumor and the family struggles mentally, emotionally, physically and especially financially to get him treatment that he needs. And they benefitted from his story,” said Gianni’s grandmother Dee Tirado of Brooklyn.
She said the family wrote letters to the judge and would like the couple to get jail time along with community service.
“I at least want them sentenced to work in a hospital where there’s children suffering with cancer and see up close and personal what these families have to go through on a daily basis, because it’s heart-wrenching,” Tirado added.
Gianni, who recently celebrated Halloween by dressing up as Wolverine, has a lot of challenges ahead of him as his treatments continue, according to his family.
His mother, Kelly Incandela, said he’s had several surgeries, has gone through radiation, and is on a medication regimen as his everyday life remains “a battle.”
“I would like them to see what children are actually suffering and going through,” Incandela said of Schmidt and Fina, after coming to court Wednesday hoping for “some kind of closure.”
Bogle said previously he plans to sentence both defendants to 5 years of probation, 60 hours of community service and any treatment programs probation officials order.
Fina’s Garden City defense attorney, Ronald Bekoff, said previously that the married couple had been using drugs at the time of the scam and “were desperate,” but had been taking steps to recover.
Prosecutors have said the couple’s flimflam included the pair telling some people their donations would go toward Gianni’s funeral, and that they used details about him from an online crowdsourcing page and had no connection to him.
Authorities said Lynbrook police arrested the pair in March after they went into several business with their 11-year-old son and asked for donations.
The couple admitted soliciting donations in at least 10 Nassau County businesses, as well as businesses, police precincts and fire stations in Queens and Brooklyn.
Gianni’s grandmother said Wednesday that one of those businesses was the glass company she works at in Park Slope, where she said the scammers came twice to solicit donations.
The first time, they claimed to be raising money to start a children’s cancer camp, and the couple’s 11-year-old told her he was a cancer survivor, Tirado said.
Gianni’s grandmother said she and her boss gave donations, and the couple left with a fundraising flyer her family had designed as part of an effort to raise money for Gianni’s treatment.
But Tirado said Schmidt returned at a later date with her son, by then using Gianni’s story to collect money, and Tirado said she confronted the woman.
Gianni’s grandmother said she solicited news coverage, eventually was able to discover the couple’s identity using social media and word of mouth, and passed the information to police.