DA: County worker stole thousands from immigrant couple

August 31, 2009 By JOSEPH MALLIA joseph.mallia@newsday.com

Police arrested Tula Baffi, 42, of Floral Park, a Nassau County social services worker accused of taking $11,000 from a Hempstead couple, after persuading them she could circumvent immigration laws and bring their three children from Peru to the U.S., prosecutors said.

A Nassau County social services worker was arrested Monday and accused of taking $11,000 from a Hempstead couple after persuading them she could circumvent immigration laws and bring their three children from Peru to the United States, prosecutors said.

"After more than a year of promises and payments, the couple realized that they had been swindled" by Tula Baffi, 42, of Floral Park, prosecutors said.

Investigators on the staff of Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice arrested Baffi as she drove to work Monday and charged her with third- and fourth-degree grand larceny. Baffi, a case worker for the Nassau County Department of Social Services since 2000, had no authority to help with federal immigration issues.

Baffi is scheduled to be arraigned Monday at First District Court, Hempstead. She faces up to 7 years in prison if convicted of the charges.

"This woman exploited a hardworking couple's desire to give their children a better life," Rice said in a statement. "She preyed on them because she believed they would not have the courage to come forward and turn her in. She was wrong."

Baffi's lawyer, Steven Gaitman of Uniondale, declined to comment until after Baffi's arraignment Monday afternoon.

In April 2006, Baffi told the common-law married couple, who came to the United States from Peru in 2001, that she had a government job in which she helped people with immigration issues, Rice said.

Baffi knew the couple because the wife had worked part-time cleaning Baffi's house from 2002-2004. Baffi is also of Peruvian descent.

The couple share one common son, 9, and the father has a 13-year-old son and the wife a 12-year-old son, both from prior relationships. All three children live in Lima, Peru.

Initially, Baffi suggested marrying the husband in exchange for $18,000, claiming that she would then use her parental status as a U.S. citizen to travel to Peru to retrieve the children, prosecutors said.

The couple rejected this idea as it would leave one of the children, from the wife's previous marriage, behind in Peru, prosecutors said.

Baffi then suggested that, for the $18,000 plus traveling expenses, she would go to Peru representing herself as the children's godmother and take the children with her to Disney World. Baffi convinced the couple that her government job would ensure the process would go smoothly, Rice said.

Baffi set up a payment plan with the couple whereby they would pay her $3,000 upfront and $500 a month until they paid off the final $15,000, prosecutors said.

As a condition of this arrangement, she required the couple to move into Baffi's basement and pay her an extra $500 a month rent, and the couple agreed to this arrangement, prosecutors said. From July 2006 to July 2007 they paid her a total of $11,500, prosecutors said.

In July 2006, Baffi traveled to Peru at the couple's expense and explained that she would need to spend time with the children on this trip before she could bring them back to New York on a subsequent trip.

While staying with the wife's family in Peru, Baffi insisted the family install hot water for her and act as tour guides at their expense, authorities said. When Baffi returned to New York she told the couple that she would return to Peru in December 2006 to get the children, prosecutors said.

As December approached, however, Baffi changed the plan and said she would go to Peru to marry the wife's brother in the hope that she could then return with the children, who were living with the brother at the time, Rice said.

Baffi and her son traveled to Peru, but Baffi never filed any marriage paperwork, later telling the couple that she would file the required marriage paperwork in New York - but she never did, Rice said.

In July 2007, the couple moved out of Baffi's house and ended their relationship with her. On Aug. 4, 2007, Baffi agreed to pay the couple back the $11,500 she had taken from them, Rice said, but she made only one payment of $500.

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