NEW YORK CITY — A Brooklyn couple was arrested after they fleeced New Yorkers out of tens of thousands of dollars in funeral money for a 5-year-old boy who's actually alive and fighting a rare form of cancer, officials said.
Brittney Schmidt, 30, and Vincent Fina, 29, were arrested in their Mapleton home Friday night by Long Island police after they brought their son to several business in Lyndbrook and collected money for a child with cancer, according to Nassau County police.
Schmidt and Fina were arraigned in Nassau District Court on Saturday on charges of scheme to defraud and endangering the welfare of their 11-year-old son, CBS 2 first reported. They were released without bail and are due back in court on March 7, according to court records.
Dee Tirado, 52, of Mill Basin, told DNAinfo New York last week the couple had collected nearly $12,000 for a bogus funeral for her grandson Gianni Incandela — who is alive and living in Rossville while he battles a rare form of cancer. She added that the couple had taken a flyer that featured her grandson's face off her office desk in Park Slope when they came in during an earlier scam, in which they claimed their own son had leukemia.
"I felt great that somebody was doing something," Tirado said about the Nassau County police department arrests. "I’m sorry that they didn't get harsher punishment."
Incandela was diagnosed with craniopharynigoma, a brain tumor, almost a year ago and Tirado started a GoFundMe page to raise money to pay for treatments that wasn't covered by his parent's insurance.
Tirado received messages on the page earlier this month from strangers reporting a couple approached them claiming Incandela died and they were raising money for his funeral.
The couple and their 11-year-old son traveled to Lyndbrook, Long Island, on Feb. 21 and collected about $170 from at least eight businesses along Merrick Road using the same story, according to the criminal complaint.
All three returned to Tirado's Park Slope office on Feb. 27 claiming they were raising money for a different cancer organization, according to Tirado.
She said she locked them in her office, took a photo of them and their donation paperwork then confronted them about using her grandson to raise money.
"I know that you're using my grandson's story and pictures and lying about his death," Tirado said she told the woman. The woman claimed, "It wasn’t your grandson Gianni, it was another Gianni," Tirado said.
Tirado said she immediately called the NYPD who arrived and told her they couldn't arrest the duo for the scam and let them go. The NYPD said they were looking into the incident and could not say what the officers on scene told Tirado.
Nassau County detectives, however, saw the news stories, realized the same scam had happened in their jurisdictions, obtained the scam fliers they'd distributed in Lyndbrook, and took it to Tirado's office to confirm it was the same couple running the scam, according to Tirado.
Nassau police then arrested them in their Brooklyn apartment later that night, according to their criminal complaint.
"I couldn't ask for a better result," said Tirado.
Fina was previously arrested in 2015 and charged with aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, court records show.