A band of New York men are accused of pocketing $1.5 million of a homeless amputee’s settlement and blowing it as if it were their own personal jackpot.
Queens prosecutors say a bodega owner, his father, a bank manager and two other men are allegedly behind the scam that left 62-year-old Michelle Carter penniless after she’d won a settlement in 2014 for $4 million in compensation for losing her legs from being struck by a subway train in 2005.
Carter, who became an internet sensation last year after viral video surfaced of her apparently smoking a blunt on a Brooklyn train, lost both legs in the accident and is mentally disabled, according to the New York Daily News. In October 2015, she entrusted a $799,000 check to local deli owner Ammar Awawdeh, 28, who co-owned the store with his father, Yaser Awawdeh, 58, on Roosevelt Island.
Rather than using the cash to run a tab at the deli for cartons of cigarettes, as Carter had wished, prosecutors said Awawdeh spent the money on his wedding, a ritzy honeymoon in Turks and Caicos and a bachelor party in Las Vegas, among other trips. Awawdeh’s father also cashed in, using some of the stolen money for a down payment on a brand new car and to write checks to several businesses.
Carter still had another $886,000 check — the last of her settlement — stashed in the Bible she carried with her in her wheelchair. Awawdeh managed to get his hands on it, however, and, with the help of 32-year-old Chase bank manager Anas Ali, deposited the funds into the bank account of another deli owned by Brooklyn resident Salah Omairat, 30, investigators said.
Ali got a cut of the deal — $20,000 to be exact, according to prosecutors, while Omairat’s brother, Mukhtar, 36, also got in on the legal windfall.
It wasn’t until January that Carter realized her $886,000 check was missing. According to the Daily News, she reported the stolen money to the first officer she saw, a cop at Penn Station.
Once busted, the younger Awawdeh told investigators he disbursed the money at the direction of one of Carter’s friends and insisted “Michelle was OK with it.” He added that he’d taken a cut for himself because he was “23 years old with plans to get married in a few weeks with no money,” a criminal complaint revealed.
Carter sued over the stolen check in February 2017. If convicted Ammar Awawdeh could spend up to 25 years in jail. He was arrested and jailed Thursday night on $100,000 bail while the others were released on varying bail amounts, the newspaper reported.
Lawyers for Carter said she either gave away or spent what was left of her settlement over the years.