The Kings County District Attorney’s Office on Wednesday announced the arrest of Patrick Panettieri, 63, and his wife, Joanne Panettieri, 59, for allegedly defrauding approximately 100 Asian immigrant families out of thousands of dollars which they paid in tuition at schools run by the defendants to learn English as a Second Language.
The defendants are charged with suddenly closing down the schools and fleeing with their victims’ money. The couple was arrested on Friday, Aug. 30 in Syracuse, N.Y. They are charged with Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, Petit Larceny and Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree.
They were arraigned on Aug. 30 in Brooklyn Criminal Court, and bail was set for each defendant at $150,000. If convicted, they each face up to four years in prison.
“The victims in this case paid, with their hard-earned money, to learn the English language. This was not a real school, but it was a fraud," D.A. Charles Hynes said. "The defendants were selling a product that did not exist."
According to the investigation, between January 2012 and August 2013, the defendants owned the Chinatown Outreach Ministry School, with three locations in Sunset Park, where they would hire teachers to teach English as a Second Language to approximately 100 Chinese pre-kindergarten and elementary school-aged children. They also taught English to Latino students. The defendants advertised their services by distributing fliers in the neighborhood.
This summer, the defendants abruptly closed the schools in the middle of the semester on Aug. 13. Two of the schools’ semesters were scheduled to end on Aug. 23 and one was scheduled to end on Aug. 30.
The families were never informed of the closings. Instead, when the students arrived at their schools on Aug. 13, no one was there and the doors were locked. The defendants allegedly fled with the students’ tuition money. Not only did they leave with the money for that semester, but many of the parents had paid them in advance for enrollment in the fall 2013 and Spring 2014 semesters, according to the D.A.’s Office. The Panettieris allegedly ran off with approximately $25,000 in students’ money.
In addition, some of the teachers are owed back pay from the defendants in the amounts of approximately $100 to over $2,000.
Upon further investigation, it has been learned that some of the students were never supplied books, classes were often overcrowded with students, and teachers were often given little or no instruction or training from the defendants, according to the charges.
The students’ parents made complaints to their local Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez, who alerted the Kings County District Attorney’s Office, initiating an investigation.
The defendants were found in Syracuse more than two weeks after they fled through the use of electronic surveillance equipment. They were placed under arrest and brought back to New York City.