A serial con artist amassed $1 million dollars in two years by promising legal status to undocumented Irish living in the US.
Ralph Cucciniello, pretending to be an attorney, claimed to have found a loophole in the immigration system and promised his victims a path to legal status if they enrolled in a program he was running, the Irish Times reports.
Anne Muldoon, a Belfast woman who was 23-years-old at the time, met Cucciniello in 2006.
“He had a big, smiley face and he was super friendly,” she says. “I went up to Yale with a group of friends, and he would hug the girls and high-five the guys. He was larger than life.”
Claiming he was a visiting attorney with Yale’s Immigration Law Clinic, he told Muldoon and her friends they were lucky to be accepted into his exclusive program.
“There were a few other faces I knew on the train up to Yale,” Muldoon says. “The Irish community in Queens, where I was living, was very tight-knit, and we all knew each other. I remember the look on our faces; we were all so excited. We were thinking, 'We’re going to get legal through this. We’re all going to be part of this process, and it’s going to be great.'”
The group was told they would need to fill out forms, attend a medical, get fingerprints and biometrics done, and pay Cucciniello a fee of $5,000.
“Our immediate reaction was, You’re getting scammed,” says Robert, another young Irish expat.
“The more we heard about it, though, the more convincing it was,” he says. “Cucciniello impressed upon us that he was our lawyer and that we had the weight of Yale Law School behind us.”
In 2007, Muldoon took the train to meet Cucciniello, this time alone, to discuss the progress of her application.
“He said to me, ‘You’re number 57 on the list. Is there anything you would do to move up?’ I told him I didn’t have any more money – by this point I’d given him $12,000 – and before I knew it he was leaning over and touching my leg. I got out of that office as soon as I could. That was the alarm bell. That’s when I knew this guy wasn’t who he said he was,” says Muldoon.
She contacted Olwyn Triggs, a friend who was also a private investigator.
“Olwyn said, ‘We need to find a way of gaining his trust to get your money back,’” Muldoon says. “So that’s what we did. We made a plan to back him into a corner, and it worked. I got about $9,000 back of the $12,000 I had given him.”
Triggs reported Cucciniello to the authorities. The scam artist was arrested outside a cafe in Greenwich Village in Manhattan on May 1, 2007.
A serial con artist, Cucciniello, who is not and never has been a lawyer and had never been a faculty member at Yale, has a rap sheet dating back to the 1970s.
He married Elizabeth McDermott, an Irish American, in 1986, and told her he was a television producer and financial analyst. He then convinced his new mother-in-law to “invest” her life saving of $108,000.
After his arrest in 2007, Cucciniello was sentenced to 30 years in prison, with the last 10 suspended.
Mulddon was able to get some of her money returned and is now living in New York as a US citizen.