INWOOD — A woman who scammed several Uptown families out of tens of thousands of dollars by promising them apartments in a new affordable housing development has been arrested and charged with several counts of grand larceny, according to police.
Jennifer Ricardo, 33, who posed as a leasing agent for a newly renovated affordable housing complex at 552 Academy St., took between $2,000 and $3,000 each from at least 10 families, going so far as to write up phony leases and hand out fake keys to the apartments, officials said.
After collecting more than $24,000 in total, Ricardo fled to her native Dominican Republic, police said.
However, detectives from the 34th Precinct determined that Ricardo had made plans to return to the United States, a police source said. Ricardo was taken into custody at JFK Airport Monday, police and officials said.
Ricardo has been charged with 10 counts of grand larceny and one count each of petit larceny and scheme to defraud, according to the Manhattan District Atttorney's office.
Councilman Ydanis Rodriquez praised the work of the NYPD at a press conference Monday afternoon.
"I'd like to thank the men and women of the 34th Precinct for the good job that they did," he said. "Now it's up to the DA to do their job so that the message is loud and clear: No one should take advantage of the desperation of tenants who are in need of affordable housing."
State Sen. Adriano Espaillat spoke of the toll the scam took on Ricardo's victims.
"These families not only lost their money...but they lost their faith and their dreams that they would have a decent affordable apartment, and that’s unconcsionable," he said.
Ana Villega, 37, was forced to move her family into the city's shelter system after Ricardo disappeared with almost $3,000 of her money.
"The only thing I want to say to her is justice is great," Villega said through a translator Monday. "She had me out on the street, but now look where she is."
Evelyn Hernandez, who lost $2,800 in the scam, was elated after hearing of the arrest.
"I was very excited," she said through a translator. "I called the other ladies and said, 'Finally she'll pay for what she has done.'"
Ricardo was arraigned Monday and released on her own recognizance, the DA said. She is due back in court on March 11.
Her attorney information was not available.
Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance encouraged anyone who has been a victim of such a housing scam to come forward.
"My Office will continue to root out and prosecute crooked individuals that would take advantage of those who strive to provide better housing for their families," he said in a statement.