A Colonia couple charged with bilking would-be renters out of thousands in deposits for homes they never obtained may have gotten a big boost from Hurricane Sandy.
The hurricane that caused so much dislocation for families has caused a tightening of the rental market in some parts of the state, and that's where Christine Winters, 46, really started to expand a rental scam by posting housing ads on Craigslist, officials charge.
By offering impossibly good rental deals at cheap prices, Winters allegedly defrauded more than 40 people to the tune of $40,000, said Woodbridge Police Captain Roy Hoppock.
Police took note as they began to receive complaints about a woman who took deposits for housing that didn't exist, and then disappeared with their money. Winters had been initially arrested in July on two counts of theft by deception.
It was after Hurricane Sandy hit the area in late October that Winters allegedly upped the Craigslist postings and deposits she took. She was again arrested and charged twice in November with several more charges of theft by deception for the same scam before the last arrest on December 9, Hoppock said.
Michael Daddario, 41, who lives at the same address in Colonia as Winters, was also arrested on December 6 and charged with ten counts of theft by deception.
In one of the Craigslist ads, Winters allegedly offered a three-bedroom 1,750 sq. ft.Cape Cod house with a fenced yard, finished basement, and new appliances for a rent of $1,350 a month. The ad also said that pets were welcome, something not that easy to find in rental housing.
The same phone number in the Craigslist scam ad was also used for other business pursuits. A Google search revealed that the phone number was used in October to sell sex services on Classifriedads.com.
That ad, posted with pictures of a scantily-clad young woman, said that she was 19 years old and would "do it all" for a price - and a down payment before she'd show up for the paid date.
"...[Y]ou gotta send me something to secure your appointment, even if it's just $20," the ad said.
Both Winters and Daddario are being held on the theft by deception charges at the Middlesex County Adult Corrections Facility in North Brunswick. Bail for Winters was set at $800,000, and $420,000 for Daddario, Hoppock said, with no ten percent option.