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Woman Targeting African Immigrants in Apartment Scam Sentenced to 7 years

By Gustavo Solis | October 29, 2015 11:15am
 Koudedja Diawara pleaded guilty to charges that she collected $4,600 for an apartment in this building on West 114th Street, according to the criminal complaint.
Koudedja Diawara pleaded guilty to charges that she collected $4,600 for an apartment in this building on West 114th Street, according to the criminal complaint.
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DNAinfo/Gustavo Solis

HARLEM — A woman who baited African immigrants with promises of cheap apartments and then scammed them out of thousands of dollars blamed her victims at her sentencing Wednesday and claimed she pleaded guilty to protect the community.

Koudedja Diawara, 55, an immigrant from Mali, collected more than $22,000 from dozens of apartment seekers and then pocketed the money, leaving many of her victims homeless, prosecutors charge.

Diawara, who pleaded guilty in October, attacked her victims at her court hearing, saying they did not pay taxes and didn’t have the right paperwork to qualify for any apartments.

She told the judge that she genuinely wanted to help her victims and had found homes for “40 to 50” families.

“Ninety percent of the people got apartments the [other] 10 percent is because of false documents,” she told the judge.

Diawara also told the judge that part of the reason she pleaded guilty was because a lot of people in the West-African community don’t pay taxes and she did not want to get them in trouble.

“I do love my community,” she said. “That’s why I was helping.”

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Thomas Farber didn't buy it. He blasted Diawara for her lack of remorse.

“Your kind of criminal is in many ways the worst kind of criminal,” he said. “I don’t understand you …You sit there and attack them as if they are the criminals.”

Farber sentenced Diawara to up to seven years in a state prison.

Diawara was able to target African immigrants because she had a reputation for finding cheap apartments. They trusted her because of their shared history, according to Haona Zakari, who lived in a homeless shelter after being evicted.

“You as an African found a way to take your people down,” she told Diawara during the sentencing at 111 Center St. “It’s a shame. You are supposed to help people.”

Diawara, with her hands cuffed behind her back, hung her head as her victim spoke.

All 10 of the victims that faced her in the courtroom were from West African countries like Niger, Mali, Senegal and Burkina Faso. They shared stories of giving her $5,000 in order to move into an affordable apartment, never to hear from her again. Many of them lost their apartments and their jobs, and spiraled into debt.

After Theresa Bitoume, 50, lost her money and her apartment she spent a day outside Diawara’s Harlem apartment building waiting for her to come in or out. Finally, around midnight, she was able to talk to Diawara and go into her apartment.

Bitoume didn’t have anywhere else to go and asked to sleep in Diawara’s couch.

“I told her to give me the apartment or give me the money because I was going to be homeless,” she told the judge. “I laid down on the couch, she gave me soup and I fell asleep. Next thing I know I saw the police. She called the police on me at 1 o'clock in the morning and I had nowhere to go.”

Diawara’s lawyer asked Farber for a lenient sentencing, pointing out that his client had no criminal history and previously worked in health insurance where she had access to people’s personal information and never exploited her position.

About a dozen friends and family members showed up to support Diawara during the hearing. Her lawyer presented to the judge letters from various Malian organizations and her 9-year-old nephew, who Diawara was raising.

They declined to speak at the sentencing.