The COVID hotel scheme that took New York City for $ 400,000

A guest checking into a Manhattan hotel.
Photo: ANGELA WEISS / AFP via Getty Images

It sounded like the ultimate travel deal in the COVID era: five-star hotels in Manhattan at a 60 percent discount. “I do not know exactly what hotel you would be in, but I know it would be a 5 star hotel … be ready for a cash app !!” read a Facebook post that hyped the deal. A hotel campaign that is only a cash app can raise a few red flags, but trust that the rooms were very real — they should just be set aside for COVID patients and healthcare providers. The scam was uncovered after four months of excellent business, and this week, federal prosecutors accused Chanette Lewis of fraudulently booking New York City emergency hotel hotels using stolen personal information. Lewis, 30, and three other accomplices are alleged to have advertised the rooms on Facebook and earned as much as $ 400,000 by booking more than 2,700 nights for stays last spring and summer.

Lewis, whose real job was to book quarantine rooms on behalf of the city, had access to the health professionals’ personal information through his work at the Office of Emergency Management. But she allegedly used their credentials to book stays for her guests instead, making it look like they had been exposed to COVID. “I stole some doctor numbers and emails … I wrote down the employees ID number lmao,” prosecutors Lewis wrote in a Facebook message. The hotel rooms, which would normally run into hundreds of dollars a night, cost only $ 50 per night. Night and $ 150 for the week. She then took the cash, prosecutors say, and the city was billed for the rooms. The grip went so well that Lewis recruited others to help her. “I will teach you the ropes in it,” she sent message to her co-conspirator Tatiana Benjamin, 26, in June. Her guests did the opposite of quarantine; some threw parties and, as a special agent of the American lawyer ominously put it, “engaged in violence.” Lewis even booked 28 nights for himself.

The city caught up with the alleged scam in early July and immediately started people from rooms and sent out letters canceling future reservations made through the scheme. If convicted, Lewis could face more than 70 years in prison; her accomplices could face 40 years each. It took some time before the charges were filed, but as everything started to fall apart last year, the grabbers apparently saw the writing on the wall – as Benjamin wrote to Lewis in a Facebook message: “We’m going to jail lmao.”

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