Hurricane escapees arrive to apartment scam


COOLBAUGH TOWNSHIP, MONROE COUNTY (WOLF) -- After two hurricanes hit, a family from Puerto Rico wanted to start a new life in Scranton.

But when they got here, they found a problem. They say their new apartment wasn't ready. In fact, it wasn't even for rent.

The Mendez family left Puerto Rico last month, flying to Newark Airport.

"There's no trees, no roof," says uncle Victor Rodriguez, translating when we found an old picture of their home in Carolina on Google's Streetview.

After two hurricanes hit in September, they had problems with no water, no power, no phone, and were worried about crime.

They say many lost their jobs and housing. Highways were impassable.

"She concluded that this is not gonna get any better," says Rodriguez, translating for scam victim Rosa Mendez-Maldonado, his wife's niece.

So, she decided to go Scranton for a new start. She wired two money orders totaling $1,000 for the security deposit and first month's rent.

Then, with her relatives from the Mount Pocono area helping, they went to 1401 Pittston Avenue on Dec. 5.

"We parked in front of the residence. The keys were supposed to be on the first floor with the lease, according to the 'landlord,'" says Rodriguez.

"The lady was like dumbfounded. They didn't know what we were talking about," says Rodriguez. "She showed him the picture. She says, 'Well, that man, I evicted him. He's a scammer, he was stealing electricity.'"

Rodriguez says when they arrived at the home, the actual owner had the boxes that the Mendezes had mailed there from Puerto Rico.

"I saw a package down there that didn't make any sense and about 15, 20 minutes later, the Puerto Rican family came up and were knocking on the door," says actual landlord's son Darnell Braggs. "I made tons of hot chocolate and we sat out there for a while."

"She found herself in a desperate situation to know that she was just scammed," says Rodriguez, referring to Rosa. "At that point. Rosa started crying."

"Te sientes impotente," says Rosa, saying you feel powerless, like nothing is certain.

They've had to stay mainly in one room in Rodriguez's home. They're thankful to their relatives, but it's close quarters. Daughter Genesis Medina-Mendez, 12, started going to school.

"At the beginning she was pretty scared," says Rodriguez, adding she's found a few friends who are Puerto Rican.

Rodriguez says he was angry and wanted to find the man who sold the the apartment, but his wife had him call the police instead. They've also called Senator Bob Casey's office.

"To know that it was a scamm he was really bothered by it," says Rodriguez, referring to Rosa's son Anibal Serrano-Mendez.

"They open their door to us, but we like to have our house and to be most comfortable," says Serrano-Mendez.

The family filed a police report, but at last check, no arrests have been made. Meantime, Rosa's son applied for a kitchen job at Mount Airy Lodge.

Rodriguez says the family hopes to find their own place in the Poconos, so Genesis won't have to change schools.

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