District Attorney Charles Hynes has empanneled a special grand jury to investigate price gouging in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Hynes said that his office has received a number of calls over the past few weeks about businesses who used the super storm as an opportunty to illegally raise prices. Some also propogated scams during the disaster.
“The sad truth about a tragedy like Hurricane Sandy is that while it brings out the very best in people, it can also bring out the worst,” Hynes said. “To raise the price of a hotel, as people seek emergency shelter is just unconscionable.”
Hynes said the Grand Jury will investigate claims that businesses, such as hotels and gas stations, committed grand larceny by trick and dramatically raised prices in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The Grand Jury will also investigate claims of grand larceny by false promise.
Some residents said that scam artists created fake charities, then collected – and kept – the contributions they received. Others created bogus construction companies that would offer to damage Hurricane Sandy-ravaged homes, accepted payments, then never did the work they promised to do.
Anyone with information concerning storm-related scams and price gouging should contact the DA’s Action Center at (718) 250–2340.
Card sharks busted
Two Sunset Park men accused of making fake social security cards and green cards are facing seven years in prison each now that they have been indicted on criminal possession of forged devices.
Investigators from District Attorney Charles Hynes’s office said Jose Mateo Castro, 56, and Leonel Escamilo, 43, would make fake social security cards, green cards, and license plates and send the bogus identifications to associates in New Jersey and Michigan.
The men were arrested following a year-long investigation condicted by the DA’s detective investigators and the United States Department of Homeland Security.
The investigation began in July, 2011, when Homeland Security agents received a tip that an individual known as “Pancho” was selling forged Green Cards and Social Security cards to undocumented aliens out of Las Conchitas Bakery in in Sunset Park. Investigators learned that “Pancho” worked at the bakery and discovered that his real name was Jose Mateo Castro.
The DA’s indictment charges that Castro, on multiple occasions, sold fake Green Cards and Social Security Cards to an individual in exchange for $130.
The charges allege that over the next few months, undercover operatives met Castro and gave him money, passport photos and the information to be used on the ID’s. Later that day, Castro would provide that individual with forged Green Cards and Social Security Cards bearing the names and photographs that the individual had provided to Castro previously. Castro provided identification cards “in the names of at least six different people,” the indictment claims.
On August 14, 2012, the surveillance team observed Castro hand an envelope to a man identified as Escamiilo. Escamiilo took the envelope and went to a Sunset Park building. About an hour later, Escamiilo exited the building with a bag, which he gave to Castro.
Investigators executed a search warrant on the building, and recovered a trove of supplies used to manufacture various forms of government-issued identification cards, including blank cards, holograms, laminates, a paper-cutter, a computer and a printer, easily available online for about $1,300, specifically used for making double-sided ID cards.
Both men were taken into custody on Nov. 8.
Attempts to reach both Castro and Escamilo’s attornies were unsuccessful by press time.