Four people charged with swindling the city over Sandy repairs

They were accused of lying and claiming damaged homes were their primary residences
February 15, 2017 04:50PM

The remains of burned homes after Sandy in Breezy Point, Queens (Credit: Getty Images)

Four people were arrested Wednesday on charges that they’d scammed the city to get $300,000 in free renovations and repairs through the city’s Rapid Repairs and Build it Back programs.

Both of the aid programs were designed to make necessary repairs to homes destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. But a new report by the city’s Department of Investigation found homeowners received repairs and reimbursements on homes, despite living elsewhere, DNAinfo reported.

Among those allegedly scamming the system was Donata Rea, 58, who allegedly filed a false application through Build it Back to get benefits from an elderly woman who died in 2011. John Holl, 73, claimed his home in Breezy Point as his primary residence and received more than $85,000 from Build It Back — even though officials say he actually lives on Long Island. George Bonitsis, 67, allegedly lives in Brooklyn but still had his Breezy Point summer home rebuilt, which cost Build it Back $125,000. Another man, John Phelan, 54, had $477,000 worth of repairs spent on his home on Reid Avenue before officials say they found he did not live there full time.

All four are awaiting arraignment at Queens Criminal Court, according to the website.

The areas of the city damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 have seen an uptick in construction, with the Department of Buildings issuing the most permits for Breezy Point over the past two years.

As of October, Build it Back was half-a-billion dollars over budget, and had helped fewer than a third of the homes initially enrolled in the program. City officials had agreed they had mismanaged the recovery effort.  [DNAinfo]Miriam Hall