A West Hampton Dunes landlady who refused to return thousands of dollars owed to renters of her $1.7 million house and then sent them envelopes with metal shavings and rat feces was sentenced Thursday in Brooklyn federal court to 5 months of home confinement for mailing threats.
Sheila Friedman, 75, of Delray Beach, Florida, was accused of trying to “intimidate and terrorize” tenants of her pricey digs who tried to get deposits back with mailings prosecutors said twice triggered responses from police hazardous-material teams, but she dodged prison due to her age and medical issues.
“Were it not for her health problems and advanced age, the seriousness of the offense would demand some period of imprisonment,” said Brooklyn U.S. District Judge Carol Amon. “But this is clearly a situation where prison would be more difficult for her.”
Friedman was charged last year with sending the letters after a series of disputes over deposits or down payments dating to 2011 with renters who put down amounts ranging from $2,500 to $117,000 to lease the house at 675 Dune Rd. She pleaded guilty in November.
Thursday’s sentencing was a continuation of an earlier hearing, and Friedman — who was in a wheelchair and said in court papers she was a breast cancer survivor suffering from thyroid, back and spinal pain, severe arthritis in the knees, colon issues and bleeding skin infections — covered her head with a blue bag and didn’t speak as she left court.
Her lawyer, Alan Nelson, afterward called it a “fair sentence,” but one of her victims who came to court Thursday didn’t think so.
“She’s a swindler,” said Phyllis Ferrantello of South Setauket, who found a house that was a mess after renting it based on pictures in 2017 and couldn’t get her money back. “I don’t care that she was 75 years old, what she did was wrong. She should go to jail.”
Another victim named by the government, Joan Solotar, alleged in a lawsuit that she rented the house for $128,500 for 12 weeks in 2017 but found it uninhabitable — with missing furniture, moldy chairs, feces in nonworking toilets, a pool that was too dirty to use, showers without enough hot water, and a gas odor from two leaks — but couldn’t get her money back.
Solotar’s lawyer didn’t return a call, but prosecutors said that in addition to refusing to return money, Friedman owned the property through shell corporations and lied in small-claims court in West Hampton Dunes about her control of the house — claiming at one point “someone is giving out my name erroneously.”
“Beyond ruining what should have been a pleasant experience — enjoying a vacation — the defendant’s conduct has served to victimize individuals repeatedly,” prosecutor Nathan Reilly told Amon. “…The defendant’s crime was not merely financial. It was vengeful and, by design, aimed to cause fear and uncertainty.”
Reilly asked for imprisonment of 10 to 16 months, but Nelson, in court papers, claimed his client’s crimes were the product of a “traumatic” life history — including the murder of her father, two acrimonious divorces, spousal abuse, multiple gunpoint robberies including one pistol whipping, and a serious car accident.
He said she regretted her behavior and understood that it was “unreasonable and improper,” but warned Amon that a prison sentence might lead to her designation to a jail like Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center in which she wouldn’t get adequate care for what was in the end a nonviolent crime.
“I implore the court to not impose such a sentence,” he said.
In addition to home confinement, monitored by an ankle bracelet, Amon said Friedman would have to sell the house — already on the market for $2.99 million — and use the proceeds to pay a $30,000 fine and complete paying the final $74,000 of $202,000 restitution to all her victims.
“Sending threatening communications through the mail is a very serious offense,” the judge said. “It’s clear she intended no physical harm, but she clearly intended psychological harm.”
Friedman, who is now living at the Westhampton Dunes house and will be monitored with an ankle bracelet, also faces new criminal larceny and wage law charges filed this month by the Suffolk district attorney’s office for allegedly failing to pay a worker at her house.