Couple arrested for scamming immigrant families

September 9, 2013 Denise Romano
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A married couple has been arrested for allegedly scamming immigrant families in Sunset Park out of thousands of dollars.

Patrick Panettieri, 63 and his wife, Joanne Panettieri, 59, were arrested in Syracuse, New York on Friday, August 30 for reportedly defrauding about 100 Asian immigrant families out of thousands of dollars in which they paid in tuition at schools they ran teaching English as a second language.

The couple is charged with suddenly closing down the schools and fleeing with their victim’s money, said Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, who announced the arrest on Wednesday, September 4.

According to the investigation, between January, 2012 and August, 2013, the Panettieris reportedly owned the Chinatown Outreach Ministry School, with three locations in Sunset Park, where they would hire teachers to teach English as a second language to about 100 Chinese pre-kindergarten and elementary school-aged children, as well as some Latino students.

The Panettieris reportedly advertised their business by distributing flyers in the neighborhood. On August 13, the couple allegedly closed the schools in the middle of the semester. Two of the school’s semesters were slated to end on August 23 and the other scheduled to end on August 30. The families were allegedly never informed of the closings.

According to the investigation, when students arrived at the school on August 13, the doors were locked and the couple had allegedly fled with the tuition money.

The D.A.’s office alleges that, not only did the Panettieris flee with the money for that semester, but many of the parents had paid them in advance for enrollment in the fall, 2013, and spring, 2014, semesters. The couple reportedly ran off with about $25,000 in tuition money.

In addition, some of the teachers were allegedly owed back pay from the Panettieris in amounts ranging from about $100 to over $1,000. The DA’s office alleges that further investigation revealed that some of the students were never supplied with books, classes were often overcrowded with students and that teachers were often given little or no instruction or training from the couple. The students’ parents made complaints to Councilmember Sara Gonzalez, who alerted Hynes’ office, initiating the investigation.

The Panettieris were found more than two weeks after they fled up in Syracuse, through the use of electronic surveillance equipment. They were placed under arrest and brought back to Brooklyn.

The couple is charged with scheme to defraud in the first degree, petit larceny and grand larceny in the fourth degree. They were arraigned on August 30 in Brooklyn Criminal Court, and bail was set for each defendant at $150,000.  If convicted, they each face up to four years in prison.

“The victims in this case paid, with their hard-earned money, to learn the English language,” Hynes said. “This was not a real school, but it was a fraud.  The defendants were selling a product that did not exist.”

Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, who assisted in arresting the Panettieris, added, “For 22 years, District Attorney Joe Hynes and I have worked together as colleagues developing innovative programs on both the state and national level.  We have also worked together on cases that have overlapped our jurisdictions.

“I am pleased that my office was able to assist Kings County in locating and arresting Patrick and Joanne Panettieri,” he went on  “My office and staff will continue a collaborative partnership with Joe and his staff to ensure justice for the citizens of both our counties.”

The case was investigated by Kings County District Attorney’s Detective Investigators Anthony Schembri, Radmila Aliyev, Sandra Tillman, Supervising Detective Investigator William Pettie, Chief Detective Investigator Joseph Ponzi, Assistant Chief Investigator George Terra and Deputy Chief Investigator Gregory Deboer.

The case is being prosecuted by Lawrence Oh, bureau chief in the Rackets Division.  Michael Vecchione is chief of the Rackets Division.


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