Something about New York’s legal system doesn’t seem right to Joseph Riccardi, who is jailed because he won’t spend up to $500,000 to meet the demands of his Staten Island condo board.
“There are people committing serious crimes who don’t even have to post bail and are free,” Riccardi told the Daily News. “Yet, I’m on Rikers? It’s absolutely ridiculous.”
“I’m a 57-year-old grandfather, worked 35 years in the finance industry,” an exasperated Riccardi said. “I haven’t got a parking ticket in 20 years. I’ve never so much as sat in a police car.”
Riccardi, a foreign currency trader, began his most recent Rikers Island stretch Oct. 24, and expects to be released Dec. 28.
His trouble is rooted in a years-long legal feud with the board of Ocean View Tower, a condo on the far northern end of Hylan Blvd. in Rosebank, near New York Harbor and across the street from the historic Alice Austen House.
In 2006, Riccardi bought a 14th-floor penthouse in the building for nearly $1 million.
At some point after the building went up in 1989, someone added to the size of the penthouse, the building’s board says. A lawsuit says the addition “exclusively used certain portions of the roof” and is in violation of the city’s building code.
Riccardi said he learned that the 1,500-square-foot rooftop addition was completed by a previous owner, though one architect later told him the space was in fact part of the building’s original construction.
Howard File, a lawyer for Ocean View, doesn’t dispute Riccardi’s claim that he didn’t build on the condo’s roof — but says it doesn’t matter. Under the building’s bylaws, Ocean View says, Riccardi is responsible for fixing the situation.
“He inherited the problem from a previous unit owner,” File said of Riccardi. “And he is responsible under the bylaws for rectifying the building violation.”
Riccardi has already spent more than $425,000 in legal fees and penalties and owes about $100,000 in court penalties. Removing the extension will cost another $300,000 to $500,000 — and Riccardi’s wife, Ann Marie Porto, 60, said they have no money left.
Riccardi hasn’t worked for about 18 months, and a new job is on hold pending the outcome of his legal battle.
“My husband is a broken man,” Porto said. “A broken man.”
The events that put Riccardi on Rikers Island were set in motion in 2016 when the suit by Ocean View Tower accused him of building the addition to his 3,150 square foot property.
At about the same time, the Department of Buildings, acting on a call to 311, inspected the property and issued a violation for the addition, which is described in records as a sports room capped with a skylight roof, and a theater room.
A second violation was issued three months later when the conditions were not corrected.
Both violations were later dismissed by a judge for the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings because the condo was wrongly cited on the violation’s paperwork as having made the extension, records show.
But Ocean View’s lawsuit went to trial, with Riccardi losing in December 2020 and Judge Orlando Marrazzo Jr. ordering him to pay $126,000 in legal fees, common charges and other fees related to the extension. Riccardi was later ordered to pay $150 for each day he failed to fix the property.
The judge also gave Riccardi the opportunity to demolish the extension and return the condo to its original state — or to “legalize” the apartment by modifying it so it adheres to the building code.
File says Riccardi failed to legalize the property, though Riccardi said the plans he presented would have met that requirement.
Riccardi hopes a still-pending appeal is decided in his favor — and is considering filing bankruptcy if he loses.
Meanwhile, in April 2021, Judge Lizette Colon, who took over the case after Marrazzo retired, ordered Riccardi held in contempt for disobeying court orders to remove the rooftop addition.
After a series of delays, Riccardi was jailed for 10 days in January, court papers show. He was released because of health issues. Over the following months, several more court hearings were held, and Riccardi tried without luck to find a contractor willing to do the work.
“No one wants to do it,” said Riccardi’s lawyer, Jorge Salva. “No one wants to get involved. The property is toxic.”
In late October, Riccardi was sent back to Rikers under an order Colon issued that cited his “misconduct and disobedience and neglect and refusal to comply” with a orders to remove the illegal addition.
Though he’s to be released on Dec. 28, he could be returned to jail if he doesn’t move to fix the situation, Salva said.
The condo board “has a vendetta against him,” going back to when it improperly removed him as president of its board, Salva said.
The removal occurred amid a series of feuds between Riccardi and some of his neighbors.
In 2016, Riccardi sued seven building residents, accusing them of falsely alleging he improperly installed equipment in the lobby to “spy” on conversations, misappropriated money, and took kickbacks from people doing business with the building — including $10,000 from the producers of a TV show called “Mob Wives” that filmed at Ocean View.
File said Riccardi was properly voted off the Ocean View board. Riccardi’s neighbors successfully got the lawsuit discontinued in 2021, court papers show.
That case is separate from the effort by Riccardi’s neighbors’ suit to make him take down the extension on the Ocean View roof.
“It’s almost like they’d rather see him in jail than the structure removed,” Salva said. ‘’This is a civil matter. This is not somebody who deliberately committed an offense or refused to obey a subpoena to testify.
“[Riccardi] is basically in debtor’s prison.”
Riccardi, who will be behind bars for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, said in jailhouse phone interview on Friday that people he speaks to have a hard time believing his story.
“They laugh their ass off,” he said. “They can’t believe that this happened.
“They’ve never seen anything like this.”