A Brooklyn couple has been accused of scamming immigrant families trying to take English-as-a-second-language classes, according to prosecutors.
Patrick Panettieri, 63, and his 69-year-old wife, Joanne, abruptly closed down the Chinatown Outreach Ministry School on Aug. 13, after about 100 immigrant families paid tuition for upcoming semesters, prosecutors say.
When students went to the three schools in Sunset Park on Aug. 13, the doors were locked and no one was there, even though the semester hadn't ended at any of the school's three locations, according to prosecutors. Some of the families had already paid for lessons for the upcoming fall and spring semesters when the school shut down.
Two weeks later, investigators tracked down Patrick and Joanne Panettieri in Syracuse.
Jade Wang, one of the victims, said through an interpreter Wednesday, "In the United States, we shouldn't have this kind of situation."
The Brooklyn district attorney's office alleges that the couple made off with about $25,000 in tuition. They are also accused of owing teachers back pay and not giving students the books they needed.
Benjamin Gabrielle, a former teacher at the school, said "it was basically a joke."
"As soon as I walked in, I felt like they just needed me to work that day because they had nobody else," he said.
The couple owned the school and taught English as a second language to Chinese and Hispanic children between January 2012 and August 2013, prosecutors said.
They were both charged with first-degree scheming to defraud, petit larceny and fourth-degree grand larceny.
Bail was set at $150,000 for each suspect at an arraignment in Brooklyn on Aug. 30. Attorney information was not immediately available.