Three people, including two from Long Island, have been charged with stealing $300,000 in disaster relief funds through fraudulent applications to the New York City Build it Back program, instituted after superstorm Sandy in 2012, city officials said Wednesday.
A fourth defendant had designs on stealing more than $1 million in property from a deceased homeowner from Rockaway, Queens, Department Of Investigations Commissioner Mark G. Peters said in a news release.
“The defendants are accused of using one of the worst natural disasters to ever strike New York in recent history to unjustly enrich themselves by applying for public funds to which they were not entitled,” said Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown in a statement.
Arrested were John Holl, 73, of East Meadow, John Phelan, 54, of Syosset, George Bonitsis, 67, of Brooklyn, and Donata Rea, 58, of Rockaway Park, Queens, Peters said in a statement.
Authorities said Holl filed an application to repair a home in Breezy Point, Queens, that he “falsely said was his primary residence,” while Phelan filed a false application to repair a secondary residence in Breezy Point belonging to him and his mother.
Bonitsis filed a false application in an attempt to have a secondary home rebuilt in Breezy Point, authorities said, while Rea filed false application as part of a scheme to steal property from the estate of an elderly woman who had died in 2011.
Holl, Phelan and Bonitsis were each charged with second-degree grand larceny and first-degree offering a false filing and each face up to 19 years in prison, if convicted, authorities said. Rea was charged with first-degree grand larceny, second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and first-degree offering a false instrument for filing, authorities said. Those charges carry possible maximum sentences of 25 years, 7 years and 4 years for each count.
Authorities said Holl fraudulently obtained $86,560 for re-construction of his property on Doris Lane, which an investigation found was not his primary residence. Phelan received $66,371 for re-construction of a property on Reid Avenue, which an investigation also found was not a primary resident for him — or his mother, who was found to live primarily in Maspeth.
Peters said the DOI’s monitoring of the city’s Sandy recovery programs “put the construction work and its expenditures under a microscope, allowing DOI to take immediate action in saving nearly $40 million in public funds so far.”