Student says he wasn’t paid

Sophomore Benjamin Gabriel lost $300 in wages from his summer job employers


Diana Colapietro

Benjamin Gabriel says he was scammed out of $300 after teaching children.

A St. John’s student said he is among those scammed by a Brooklyn couple that authorities recently charged with stealing tuition payments from the families of approximately 100 kids who had gone to them for after-hours English classes.

Sophomore Benjamin Gabriel said he spent the summer teaching remedial English classes to children in Brooklyn – until his former bosses, Joanne and Patrick Panettieri, disappeared in the middle of August, abruptly closing down the school.

Two weeks later they were arrested on fraud and larceny charges and face up to four years in prison if convicted of all the charges, according to authorities.

Bond is set at $150,000 for each of them. Their next hearing is set for Sept. 26 at Kings Criminal Court.

Gabriel, a sophomore accounting major, said he is owed $300 in unpaid wages from the Panettieris, by whom he was employed for less than two months.

Stephen McCarthy, the attorney representing Patrick Panettieri, told the Torch, “Mr. Panettieri is looking forward to seeking a resolution in the matter in such a way that all the tuition that had not been earned by the school goes to all students and family involved.”

Philip Hersh, who is representing Joanne Panettieri, did not return a call seeking comment.

In a telephone interview with The Torch, Gabriel said he was searching for a job in July and heard from a friend about an $8-an-hour gig at the Chinatown Outreach Ministry – one of the three venues where the Panettieris taught English as a second language to children, according to the news release from the Kings County District Attorney’s Office.

He said he was hired immediately by the Panettieris because of a staff shortage.
Equipped with a restricted number of school supplies and textbooks, Gabriel said he worked 15 hours a week as an English instructor to about 10-15 kids.

Looking back, he said the Panettieris exhibited some questionable behavior.

“They acted so strange—they wanted to open early so no one would notice the store opening,” Gabriel said.

He said the Panettieris were also inconsistent with paydays and would often tell employees to wait a few days to cash their checks.

According to authorities, students arrived for classes on Aug. 13 only to find the doors closed with no one inside and no explanation for the closing.

Parents and instructors filed a police report, which spurred a police investigation.

The Panettieris were found in Syracuse by investigators on Aug. 30 and arrested.

Gabriel said he didn’t understand just how serious the situation was until he was contacted by the Office of Brooklyn District Attorney Lawrence Oh.

“I was more surprised,” he said. “The whole time I didn’t take it so seriously.”

Gabriel said the job itself – teaching English to youngsters – proved to be a rewarding summer job.

“It was kind of a while to get used to,” he said.

“Done legitimately, it wasn’t a bad job to have.”

He said that he is comforted knowing that the authorities acted quickly upon learning about the couple’s disappearance and found them.

“It just shows the judicial system works,” he said.

“They were capable of capturing them after couple days.”

He added that this experience helped him realize “not everyone can be trusted.”

Gabriel also advises fellow students to say something when faced with a similar sketchy situation.

“If you believe that your employers are doing something wrong and you believe you’re right, stand up for yourself,” he said.