A mentally challenged woman nearly cheated out of her house and forced onto the street is home.
And it’s thanks to the Throggs Neck community’s support.
But one of her saviors believes she may not be the only victim of this kind of misfortune.
In a story first reported in the Bronx Times Reporter in 2009, Geraldine Panattieri, 60, was found wandering the streets after being thrown out of the house at 1055 Edison Avenue where she had lived her entire life.
She spiraled downward after the death of a long-time boyfriend, Chris Nugent, who had paid her bills and made sure she took her medicine, neighbors said.
After a period off of her medication, she married Joseph Lillard, a neighbor 20 years younger, who had promised to take care of her. Instead, he booted her onto the streets.
When she walked into attorney Steve Kaufman’s office looking for help, she didn’t even realize she was married to Lillard. He also had also had her sign a quick-claim deed to her home for $10.
“She is an innocent lady who was exploited and taken advantage of every step of the way,” said Kaufman.
After much back and forth with the city and a court-appointed legal guardian, Kaufman and his assistant, Cathy Ziegler, got Panattieri hospitalized at Jacobi Medical Center and then a adult care facility while the case was sorted out in the courts.
When she was first found homeless, Ziegler and others personally paid for a motel while the city’s Adult Protective Services was contacted. Kaufman and Ziegler then found an attorney to mount a pro-bono legal case on her behalf .
“I didn’t know that it would take this long,” Ziegler said, adding that many in the community helped to get Panattieri back home. Kaufman said that the community basically did the city’s job as the advocate she needed.
“It was an enormous effort,” he said. “The community fought and won for this lady. We had a great judge with the will to do what was right!”
Judge Wilma Guzman ruled June 16, 2010 that Panattieri was incapacitated when she married Lillard and signed her two-family home over to him. Guzman voided the sham marriage and ordered Lillard out of the house.
Bronx District Attorney Rob Johnson failed to bring any criminal action against Lillard.
But Kaufman said it was unacceptable that it took three years to accomplish and the community and not the city had to do the work. He doesn’t believe it was an isolated incident either.
“It seemed like every step we took there was an obstacle placed in our way, and it took a really long time,” Kaufman said. “It points to a systemic problem,” saying he knows of other similar cases involving family members taking advantage.
“If this happens to other people, how are we supposed to have justice?”
Neighbors held a welcome home party for Geraldine on June 3.
“If it were not for Mr. Kaufman, I would not be in my house,” Panattieri said. “I love living in Throggs Neck.”
Lillard, however, had trashed the house. But the community donated labor and furniture, Kaufman said.