The 24-year-old son of a Roslyn Heights woman stole more than $4.5 million from his mother’s bank account and spent the money on box seats at the Super Bowl, flights on private jets and a $100,000 bottle of Champagne, prosecutors said Thursday in announcing his arrest.
Samuel Bernstein didn’t just squander his mother’s wealth, he also sent her a threatening text message, prosecutors said.
The message put his mother, Donna Bernstein, 68, in fear for her life, and that’s when authorities said they abruptly arrested him on Wednesday.
“This defendant is accused of pilfering his mother’s bank account for at least two years,” said Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas in a statement.
Donna Bernstein is well known and beloved in the sports world of wheelchair tennis players. She set aside the money to help these tennis players, prosecutors said.
“But because of her son’s alleged actions more than $4.5 million was wasted on extravagant expenses,” Singas said.
Samuel Bernstein was arraigned Thursday in Mineola on first-degree grand larceny and second-degree aggravated harassment charges, prosecutors said. The judge set bail at $750,000 bond or $650,000 cash.
Samuel Bernstein is represented by Legal Aid, which did not return a call seeking comment.
He faces a maximum sentence of 8 1⁄3 to 25 years in prison, and is due back in court Monday.
On Wednesday, realizing he was under investigation and that his mother planned to press charges, Samuel Bernstein sent his mother the text message that said he would destroy her home if she did not “come around,” authorities said, adding that he also threatened the daughter of a law enforcement officer.
Bernstein had been stealing from his mother’s account for at least two years, prosecutors said. He obtained her account information and accessed the money online.
Donna Bernstein realized the money was missing in April of last year when she went to the bank to make a withdrawal. She filed a complaint in Manhattan and the New York County District Attorney’s Office started to investigate.
The case was referred to the Nassau district attorney for jurisdictional reasons. The probe included assistance from the NYPD and U.S. Homeland Security.
In addition to spending the money on private jets and Super Bowl tickets, Bernstein splurged on nightclubs and hotels, prosecutors said. He also paid off his friends’ credit cards, they said.
He picked up box seats for the 2017 Super Bowl in Houston between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots.
Bernstein used mobile payment services “to transfer money to various accounts and then obtain cash after the subsequent transfers,” prosecutors said.
Donna Bernstein attended a wheelchair tennis tournament in Flushing on Thursday, but she gave no sign of the trouble with her son, said John Hamre, president of the Wheelchair Sports Federation.
“Donna is a big supporter of wheelchair tennis, from the very start,” Hamre said.
He said Donna Bernstein had been involved in the sport as a donor, volunteer and tennis coach. Years ago, she had been coaching tennis when she began helping those players in wheelchairs, and she’s been a dedicated supporter since, he said.
“She’s a great person — dedicated, committed and consistent,” he said.