ROCKAWAY PARK — A "very good friend" of a woman who died a year before Hurricane Sandy was caught carrying out an elaborate scheme to drain $1.3 million from the dead woman's bank accounts and homes in Queens and Miami Beach — and leaving her body to be buried in the city's Potter's Field, prosecutors charge.
Donata Rea, 53, was caught as part of a probe by the Department of Investigation after signing her friend Mary Karen Connors' homes on Beach 120th Street in Rockaway Park up for the city's Build It Back program. She registered the homes with Build It Back in July of 2013, receiving up to $60,000 in repair work and reimbursement for construction on the homes.
But her Build It Back sham was just a small part of her deception, the Queens District Attorney said.
Investigators soon found that Rea had forged power of attorney forms to gain control of Connors' homes, as well as two condominiums she owned in Miami Beach, prosecutors said. She also took control of Connors' bank accounts, furniture and jewelry, prosecutors said.
Connors, who was unmarried and didn't have children, died on Nov. 18, 2011 at the now-closed Peninsula Hospital Center. Despite her large property holdings, officials said Connors was buried at the city's Potter's Field on Hart Island, which is typically a place for people who are either indigent or whose bodies go unclaimed at the Medical Examiner's office.
Rea, whose lawyer described as a "very good friend" of Connors, swooped in two years after Connors' death and awarded herself all of Connors' property — along with her jewelry and furniture — by forging multiple power of attorney documents, the DA said.
She took over two homes in Rockaway Park belonging to Connors at 174 and 178 Beach 120th St., and began renting one of them out to tenants in 2013, getting more than $50,000 in rent before selling the house for $800,000 this fall, prosecutors said.
Rea had no legal authority over any of the property or items, prosecutors said. As a person without heirs, everything belonging to Connors should have been transferred over to a public administrator, officials said.
Rea was arrested Wednesday along with three other people who lied about their homes in Breezy Point being their primary residence in order to get free post-Sandy renovations, officials said.
Her lawyer Joe Mure said his client pleaded not guilty to the charges and has been cooperative with the investigation.
"She knew about the investigation, we actually voluntarily surrendered today to the DA," he told DNAinfo New York on Wednesday. "There have been hearings taking place with the public administrator and my understanding is Donna has been cooperating with them."
If convicted, Rea faces up to 25 years in prison, the DA said.