What to Know
- Prosecutors say the couple used the story of a real 5-year-old boy with cancer, falsely saying he died to get people to pony up cash
- They were arrested Friday; the investigation started in late February after they were seen going into businesses in Lynbrook
- The total estimated haul of the alleged scheme wasn't known, but officials said they took in $200 in Lynbrook in one day
A Brooklyn couple pleaded not guilty Tuesday to fraud-related and child endangerment charges in an alleged scheme to dupe people into helping cover funeral costs for a cancer-stricken 5-year-old Staten Island boy they claimed had died, according to multiple news reports and court documents.
Prosecutors say Brittney Schmidt, 30, and Vincent Fina, used the boy's photo when they walked into businesses in Nassau County's Lynbrook last month asking for cash, the reports said. The boy's battle with cancer is real, but unlike the couple's claim, he is very much alive, according to the reports.
Prosecutors say Schmidt and Fina collected nearly $200 in one day from unsuspecting contributors in Lynbrook. One woman, Kerry Bennett, told NBC 4 New York an 11-year-old boy with the couple, believed to be their son, was the main pitchman.
"I believed him and felt really bad, and said whatever I have on me, I'll give you," she said. "Now? Now I'm not happy."
NBC 4 New York spoke with three victims who said they gave small amounts of cash, but officials believe there may be more victims elsewhere on Long Island and in Brooklyn and Queens. The total estimated haul of the alleged scheme wasn't known.
Detectives launched an investigation Feb. 21 after the couple was stopped in Lynbrook and asked about their "suspicious behavior," authorities said, and arrested them at their Brooklyn home on Friday.
Prosecutors say the couple's son was seen going into Lynbrook locations with them, though how they may have used the boy in the alleged scheme wasn't clear. His age wasn't released.
Both Schmidt and Fina were released pending their next court appearance. Schmidt is being represented by Legal Aid, which does not comment on ongoing cases. Fina said he's trying to get a private attorney.
Anyone who believes they may have been victimized by the scam is asked to call his or her local precinct.