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Queens film fest founder admits animal cruelty

Marie Castaldo, the founder and executive director of the Queens International Film Festival, has pleaded guilty in an upstate court to seven charges of animal cruelty, the Ulster County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said last week.

She was sentenced to 42 days in jail with time served and has been sent to Rikers Island, where she awaits felony charges brought by Queens District Attorney Richard Brown’s office, according to Brian Shapiro, the society’s executive director.

Castaldo, 52, of 64-00 Saunders St. in Rego Park, has been charged in Queens Criminal Court with scheming to defraud, grand larceny, petit larceny, criminal possession of stolen property and harassment. She is alleged to have bilked four people who worked with her festival in 2007 and 2008 out of as much as $14,000 in goods and services, Brown said.

In late July, Castaldo was arrested by the Ulster County SPCA after she was discovered to have 48 dogs locked in cages and covered in fecal matter and urine, Shapiro said.

Many of the dogs were in poor medical condition without access to food or water.

On Sept. 8, the defendant pleaded guilty in the Town of Shandaken Court in Kingston, N.Y., to seven misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty under a state Agriculture and Markets Department law, Shapiro said. As part of a plea, Castaldo was sentenced to 42 days in jail with time served.

“Our investigators worked tirelessly on this case,” Shapiro said. “It was a successful prosecution and we are very pleased to have the dogs in our possession. These animals can finally find loving homes where they won’t be neglected or abused.”

Castaldo was arrested by the SPCA, but prosecuted by Ulster County District Attorney D. Holley Carnright, a court clerk at the Town of Shandaken Court, said.

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

The dogs are currently up for adoption.

In the Queens case, Castaldo allegedly bilked advertising company owner Stacy Lavender, who helped to market the 2007 festival, Brooklyn’s Rooftop Films Program Director Dan Nuxoll, Big Apple Rentals audio-visual engineer Leonid Fishman and Connecticut projectionist James Hill.

Other institutions and individuals who allege Castaldo failed to pay them for their services include Astoria’s Museum of the Moving Image and Kerry Wallum, an Austin, Texas-based production company owner who organized a tribute to Levon Helm led by Kris Kristofferson for the 2009 festival before later moving the event to Woodstock.

Castaldo could face up to seven years in prison if convicted in the Queens case. As a French national, she could also be deported from the United States by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Shapiro said.

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

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