QIFF founder stole $14K: DA
The contact address for the Queens International Film Festival is listed as an apartment in a Saunders Street complex in Rego Park. Photo courtesy Ulster County SPCA
By Nathan Duke

Marie Castaldo, the founder and executive director of the Queens International Film Festival, has been accused of bilking four vendors associated with the 2007 and 2008 festivals out of $14,000 just two weeks after she was charged upstate with failing to provide sustenance to more than 40 dogs she was keeping in cages, the Queens district attorney said.

Castaldo, 52, of 64-00 Saunders St. in Rego Park, was arraigned Aug. 10 before Queens Criminal Court Judge Stephanie Zaro on charges of scheming to defraud, grand larceny, petit larceny, criminal possession of stolen property and harassment, Queens DA Richard Brown said.

The defendant, who founded the Queens film festival in 2002, was held on $15,000 bail. She will return to court Aug. 24 and, if convicted, she could face up to seven years in prison.

“The defendant is accused of duping advertising and film industry vendors into providing their services for free to her film festival by — in most cases — making up a small front payment and then refusing to make any further payments,” the DA said. “Queens County has long enjoyed a rich cinema history that can be traced all the way back to the film industry’s silent days. The defendant’s alleged actions not only hurt the people she defrauded, but the reputation of the borough itself.”

Castaldo is accused of failing to pay as much as $14,000 in goods and services to four people who worked with her festival in 2007 and 2008.

One of the victims, advertising company Ballyhoo Central owner Stacy Lavender, was first contacted by Castaldo in August 2007 to provide marketing material for the festival. Castaldo allegedly purported the festival to be a nonprofit organization, but an investigation found that the festival was not registered as one, the DA said.

Castaldo allegedly ordered and received $9,740 in goods from Ballyhoo, but only made one payment of $1,200, the DA said. She then is alleged to have refused to make any further payments.

In November 2008, Lavender attempted to confront Castaldo, who allegedly chased her out of her building and threatened to ruin her business relationships, the DA said.

On Nov. 8, 2007, Castaldo contacted Dan Nuxoll, the program director for Brooklyn’s Rooftop Films, to inquire about enlisting the company for its services at her festival. But Castaldo allegedly failed to pay Nuxoll, who is making a documentary about the defendant, an estimated $2,650 in services as well as threatened that she had male friends who would make him regret showing up at the festival, the DA said.

In November 2008, Castaldo contacted Leonid Fishman, an audio-visual engineer for Big Apple Rentals, and Connecticut projectionist James Hill to get them to work on the QIFF. The defendant is alleged to have rented $2,740 in video equipment from Big Apple Rentals and received $1,250 worth of services from Hill, including video and audio equipment rental, Brown said.

Big Apple received a check for the amount owed, but it was returned by the bank for insufficient funds before later making a payment of $950, the DA said. She allegedly refused to pay the company any further. Hill only received a total $250.

The DA said a review of organizations that are tax-exempt from the state determined that Castaldo’s festival was not registered as a nonprofit.

The defendant’s other alleged victims include Astoria’s Museum of the Moving Image and Kerry Wallum, who owns an Austin, Texas-based film production company and organized a tribute to musician Levon Helm led by Kris Kristofferson for the 2009 festival before later moving the event to Woodstock.

Earlier this month, Castaldo was arrested in Kingston, N.Y., for allegedly keeping 47 dogs in cages without food or water, said Brian Shapiro, executive director of the Ulster County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

She was charged with one count of failure to provided sustenance to animals under a state Agriculture and Markets Department law. An additional 46 counts are pending, Shapiro said.

Many of the dogs were confined to cages and covered in fecal matter and urine, while many others were in poor medical condition without access to food or water, he said.

Castaldo was housing the dogs in an empty storefront of a former feed store along Old Route 28 in Phoenicia, N.Y., according to the SPCA. The animal rescue group seized all the dogs, which were taken to a nearby shelter for medical care.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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