Homeowner mistakenly arrested in apparent scam

February 6, 2009 3:16:32 PM PST
A Queens homeowner is angry about how she was treated after she opened up her home to a man in need.

She says he offered to help around the house in exchange for free room and board, but when that wasn't happening, she changed the locks. Then she was arrested.

"They put it very tight on me. I said, 'Please let me get my coat. It's a very cold night.' and he said, 'No! No! Get outta here! Get outta here!'" Martha Mastrovincenzo explained.

This is how 70-year-old Mastrovincenzo described the NYPD and how officers spoke to her after they arrested her at a home, which she owns.

"And he said, 'Now, you make me mad! I am going to throw you in jail! Turn your back,'" she said..

The incident happened after Mastrovincenzo changed the locks on her doors upon the advice of an attorney because, she said, a handyman had moved into her building and wouldn't leave.

It all started when she met a handyman named Hector on her block. She said he offered to fix her kitchen tiles and do some other work in her home, but he also asked if he could stay in the house, until all the work was complete.

Mastrovincenzo agreed, but then the floors went without repair and the other work was not done.

"And I confronted him, and I said, 'Listen, where's the work you told me you are going to do for me?' He said, 'Work? I never offered you work,'" she said.

Mastrovincenzo asked him to leave, and that is when she says a woman and her 8-month-old baby showed up. They called police claiming all of them were being put out in the cold by Mastrovincenzo.

"It's a scam that's used by many people over and over. These police officers obviously either didn't know it or didn't care," attorney Ken Mollins said.

Next thing she knew, Mastrovincenzo was hauled off to a police precinct, charged with endangering the welfare of a child. When police realized Mastrovincenzo did own the home, that hector had no lease and was gone, the charges were dropped.

"I don't trust them anymore. When I walk on the streets and I see a cop, I jump back," Mastrovincenzo said.

Mastrovincenzo is a U.S. citizen who has been here for nearly 3 decades. She is now suing the NYPD.

"Because I have my rights. I've been here 29 years, paying my taxes, work. I do good citizenship and this happens to me," she said.

The NYPD declined to comment on pending litigation.