A Nassau judge issued arrest warrants for a couple whose probation deal could be off after they skipped court Wednesday following their conviction for using the story of a boy with brain cancer to collect and keep donations.
Brooklyn couple Brittney Schmidt, 31, and Vincent Fina, 30, each pleaded guilty in September to a felony charge of scheme to defraud and were to be sentenced Wednesday in a Mineola court.
Nassau prosecutors say Schmidt and Fina scammed unsuspecting donors at Long Island businesses and city police and fire stations by using 6-year-old brain cancer victim Gianni Incandela’s story and photo. The two also used some of the thousands of dollars in donations to buy drugs, according to authorities.
Under a plea deal, acting State Supreme Court Justice Robert Bogle had planned to sentence both defendants to 5 years of probation, 60 hours of community service and drug treatment. But now that deal could be off, prosecutors confirmed Wednesday.
Bogle said from the bench that the couple had missed four probation appointments and two court dates.
“It is obvious that they’re not taking this matter as seriously as they should be taking it,” he said, before issuing bench warrants.
Earlier at the hearing, Fina’s Garden City attorney, Ronald Bekoff, told the judge that the couple only had one day’s notice of Wednesday’s court date, and he fully expected his client to arrive for court. He said the couple didn’t make a recent probation appointment because of a family emergency but had called to reschedule it.
Legal Aid Society lawyer Martha Leventhal, Schmidt’s attorney, also asked for another hour before the judge issued warrants — saying the couple commuted by rail to get to the courthouse.
When law enforcement officers arrest the couple, the two will go before Bogle and he’ll decide what to do next, said Betty Rodriguez, Nassau senior assistant district attorney, after the hearing. She said the judge moved up the couple’s January sentencing date to Wednesday after they missed a probation appointment Tuesday.
“He was very angry,” she said of Bogle.
The couple now could face up to 3 years in prison, according to Rodriguez.
Prosecutors have said the couple’s flimflam included telling some people their donations would go toward Gianni’s funeral and used details about him from an online crowdsourcing page. They actually had no connection to the Staten Island boy.
Gianni’s grandmother, Dee Tirado, has said the couple solicited donations at her Park Slope workplace twice. The first time they claimed to be collecting money to start a camp for children with cancer. At that time, she said, they picked up a flyer about fundraising for her ill grandson, then used his story in their later fraud.
Authorities said Lynbrook police arrested the pair in March after they went into several businesses 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 family previously said that at the very least, they wanted the couple to be sentenced to community service in a children’s cancer ward. But after the couple skipped court Wednesday, Schmidt and Fina deserved time behind bars, Tirado said.
“Now we just want jail time. We feel they’ve been very disrespectful to the court and to the process. . . . We’re very frustrated to say the least,” she added.