Cops: Man posed as fundraiser, scammed businesses

January 29, 2008 3:47:47 PM PST
A man was arrested Tuesday in a plot to scam people out of money they thought they were donating to the needy.Police say he impersonated a church fundraiser to collect donations and pay for his drug habit.

Long Island reporter Emily Smith has more.

Police say John Corbett worked as a Catholic youth basketball coach and used his inside information on the church to target and take advantage of hard-working Long Island business owners.

On his own admission, Corbett says he conned dozens of Nassau County business owners into giving him money.

Mineola Deli owner Rosa Scararapicchia said says she didn't think anything of giving to Corbett when he said the magic words - kids with cancer.

"I said how much would father like?" she said. "He said $50 to $100. I said you know what, I'm Catholic, I will give $100."

So she put the cash donation in an envelope for him, attached to his bill for about $1,800 in catered food. It was food he said was needed for a church gathering.

Little did she know surveillance tape would later show he was literally running away with the cash and would later be arrested.

Father James Bowman, with Corpus Christi Church, says he knew something wasn't right when he began getting calls from delis and pizza places in the area saying his orders were ready.

"They would say, 'Father, are you having an affair for 350 people on a Saturday afternoon?'" he said. "I said noooooo."

That's when police got involved, and based on a description and a detective's hunch, Corbett was arrested near a deli.

Corbett has since admitted to police to targeting dozens of businesses.

They say he did it to pay for his cocaine habit.

"I think its low," Father Bowman said. "Especially to use children, sick children with cancer."

Deli owners say they're disappointed more than anything, but not enough to stop giving.

"My daughter comes in, she says to me, 'Ma, are you giving another donation?'" Scararapicchia said. "I said not everybody's the same."

Police say Corbett has been arrested six times for fraud and other related incidents.