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N.J. woman alleges swindling by Queens Film Fest founder

A 54-year-old office manager from New Jersey is the latest person to come forward and contended she was bilked by Queens International Film Festival founder Marie Castaldo, who has been accused by former festival collaborators of failing to pay thousands of dollars for services during the past several years.

Brinda Kostro, of Pompton Lakes, N.J., alleged that Castaldo swindled her out of $8,000 while she worked for the festival in 2003.

A number of individuals and institutions involved in the distribution and screening of films have accused Castaldo, QIFF’s founder and executive director, of not paying them for their work on the festival. Her alleged victims include Astoria’s Museum of the Moving Image, Brooklyn’s Rooftop Films Program Director Dan Nuxoll, Connecticut projectionist James Hill and Kerry Wallum, operator of an Austin, Texas-based film production company who had organized a tribute to musician Levon Helm by Kris Kristofferson for the 2008 festival that later fell through.

“She really duped me,” Kostro said of Castaldo. “She told me she’d hire me as a personal assistant and that she wanted to produce a film in Africa with Angelina Jolie. She said she’d send me to the Cannes Film Festival She made me trust her because her credentials sounded so amazing.”

Kostro also accused Castaldo ofstealing her Social Security number and using it.

The film festival’s office phone was disconnected within the past month.

Kostro said she attempted for two years to recoup money that Castaldo owed her for a variety of tasks she performed for the 2003 festival, such as scheduling events and getting corporate sponsors, but has since given up. She said QIFF’s founder had been living in an apartment in Rego Park at that time and went by the name Jocelyn.

She maintained that Castaldo’s ex-husband, Richard Castellano, threatened her not to push for reimbursement.

“Her husband said it would be in my best interest not to call Marie anymore,” she said.

James Hill, a projectionist from Connecticut who worked on the 2008 festival, said he had also received menacing calls from Castellano, who was sentenced in 2001 to a year in jail for scamming people out of money by promising to get them Screen Actors Guild cards.

QIFF screened movies from Nov. 12 to Nov. 15 at several borough sites, including Astoria’s Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, as part of its seventh annual celebration. Shortly after the festival, Castaldo’s numerous accusers began to surface.

Nuxoll said he has been filming interviews and researching Castaldo for a documentary about the QIFF founder.

Queens elected officials, such as Borough President Helen Marshall, City Comptroller John Liu and former City Councilman Tony Avella, had originally thrown their support behind the festival prior to this year’s screenings. But some of them are now calling for an investigation into Castaldo’s business dealings.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown’s office said no charges were being brought against Castaldo at this time.

But Avella said he had asked state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office to look into the matter. The former northeast Queens councilman said he forwarded the e-mails of at least six or seven alleged victims to the attorney general’s office.

“There’s no question that action needs to be taken here, whether it’s restitution or criminal charges,” Avella said. “This is a pattern of fraud.”

Avella said Castaldo had first contacted his office to generate borough interest in QIFF.

“This started because Castaldo reached out to my office to get publicity for the festival,” he said. “Be careful what you wish for because you may get it.”

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

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