Families Scammed by 'Bogus' Sunset Park School Get Their Money Back

By Nikhita Venugopal on August 11, 2014 6:38pm 

 Kenneth Thompson, the District Attorney for Kings County, distributed checks — ranging from $300 to $500 — to more than 100 immigrant families scammed by a bogus language school on Aug. 11, 2014.
Kenneth Thompson, the District Attorney for Kings County, distributed checks — ranging from $300 to $500 — to more than 100 immigrant families scammed by a bogus language school on Aug. 11, 2014.
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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

SUNSET PARK — Victims scammed by a Brooklyn couple who claimed to teach English through “missionary-type schools” will get their money back, officials announced Monday.

Parents, students and teachers of the Chinatown Outreach Ministry schools discovered weeks before the summer semester’s end last August that the institution had been shuttered — even though many families paid advances of $300 to $500 for the upcoming school year, Kings County District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said in a statement.

Patrick and Joanne Panettieri, the couple who owned and operated the “bogus” schools, scammed about 100 Chinese immigrant families and fled with their cash, the DA uncovered in a fraud investigation.

They were arrested two weeks later at a motel in Syracuse and pleaded guilty to first-degree scheme to defraud and petit larceny, the DA’s office said.

Families of 130 students who were victims received about $25,000 in total restitution checks on Monday. The remainder will be distributed to about 35 teachers, who were also victims of the scam, at a later date, according to the DA’s office.

“I am happy to be able to return this money to parents who worked long hours so they could help their children learn English and pursue the American Dream,” said Thompson in a statement.

“Sadly, they put their immigrant dreams in the hands of people who took advantage of them. My new Immigrant Fraud Unit was instrumental in ensuring that these defendants are held accountable,” he said.

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