ASTORIA — A Queens landlord scammed would-be tenants out of $17,000, collecting deposits from people who responded to an online ad and then pocketing the cash without delivering on an apartment, officials said Wednesday.
Mario Lalicata, 54, is accused of collecting security and rent deposits from people who responded to an ad he placed on Craigslist, advertising an apartment for rent in the basement of his Astoria home, according to the Queens District Attorney's Office.
Officials say Lalicata — who also went by the name Mario Lamagra — allegedly promised the pad to 21 different people, but would make excuses when move-in day approached, telling them the apartment wasn't ready or the electricity was out.
When the renters demanded their money back, Lalicata would stop returning their calls, according to the Queens DA.
Lalicata allegedly returned just a portion of the money he pocketed, officials said — he gave back $200 of a $600 deposit to one tenant, and a woman claiming to be his wife returned $100 of the $2,000 another person had given for a deposit and first month's rent.
"This case sadly represents another instance in which an allegedly greedy landlord is accused of taking advantage of Queens County’s tight housing market to rob unsuspecting individuals of substantial amounts of their hard-earned savings," DA Richard Brown said in a statement.
"For many of the victims, the loss is doubly troubling in that they have lost their money and still have no place in which to live."
Lalicata was arraigned Tuesday night on ten counts of fourth-degree grand larceny, two counts of first-degree scheme to defraud and ten counts of petit larceny, officials said. He could face up to four years in prison if convicted.
Lalicata's lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.