MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — A couple who fraudulently pocketed thousands of dollars in donations for a 5-year-old boy with cancer could be looking at three years in prison after missing a Wednesday court sentencing at which they were expected to merely get probation.
Brittney Schmidt, 31, and Vincent Fina, 30, pleaded guilty in September in a Long Island court to a felony charge of scheme to defraud. Authorities say the pair solicited donations from businesses by claiming the money would pay for the child's funeral.
Prosecutors say there is a boy from Staten Island who has brain cancer but the couple has no relation to him and "misappropriated" his story to run their scam. They also say the couple used their own 11-year-old son as part of the ruse.
The young boy suffering from cancer, Gianni Incandela, who is now 6, is still undergoing treatments, according to his grandmother Dee Tirado.
"This is disgusting, and we are very distraught," Tirado said in a telephone interview. "My family is suffering mentally, emotionally and financially. My daughter is struggling to make ends meet."
Tirado, who did not attend Wednesday's scheduled sentencing hearing, claimed the couple may have taken a flyer with her grandson's picture for her own fundraising effort off her desk when they went into her Brooklyn business in 2016 and then used it in a scam claiming their own son had leukemia.
Police arrested the couple last March after they were suspected of soliciting donations at Long Island businesses.
Attorneys for the couple did not speak with reporters after the sentencing hearing was postponed.
In addition to five years' probation, the couple was expected to be sentenced to community service and ordered to undergo drug treatment.
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Robert Bogle, who accepted the plea, was visibly irritated by the couple's failure to show up for their court hearing. The judge did not say whether he will keep his initial commitment of probation, but could opt to sentence them to 1 1/3 to 3 years in prison.