War & Peace
‘Douche du Jour’: Godmother Yolanda Reyes Bilked Shanhellen Jimenez, Daughter of 9/11 Victim Elena Ledesma, out of $1 Million
A civil court judge in New York has ruled that a young woman whose mother was killed in the September 11, 2001 terror attack on the World Trade Center was bilked out of a million dollars by her godmother, her mother’s former best friend.
The New York Post reports that Shanhellen Jimenez was a 12-year-old seventh grader when her mother Elena Ledesma was killed on 9/11. The girl was awarded $1 million in compensation by the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, to be paid upon her 18th birthday.
Jimenez and her sister Angelina, who lived in poverty in Brooklyn because their mother earned only $400 a week as a maintenance supervisor for Marsh & McLennan in the World Trade Center, were unable to fully comprehend the meaning of a million dollars. But Yolanda Reyes, the girls’ godmother and their late mother’s best friend, offered to take the sisters into her home and treat then as if they were her own children. Shanhellen agreed; Angelina, who was about to turn 18 and receive her compensation funds, declined.
At first, Shanhellen’s life improved. But today she is broke and receiving welfare, living in the same humble apartment she grew up in with her mom and sister.
What went wrong?
“Over the years, Yolanda brainwashed me,” Shanhellen told the Post. “She would tell me my sister didn’t care about me. All the time, she was preparing me so that when I turned 18 and got the full amount of my money, I would give it up to her.”
When Shanhellen did turn 18 in 2007, the Reyes family began taking money from her. At first it was relatively small things, like $12,900 for an SUV or new household appliances, clothes, furniture and such. But it wasn’t long before Yolanda convinced Shanhellen to invest $800,000 in a business property in the Dominican Republic, Reyes’ country of origin. Shanhellen spent the money investing in a garage/carwash that doubled as a bar at night. The business was in Reyes’ name.
“She said I wasn’t a citizen in the Dominican Republic so it had to be put in her name,” Shanhellen explained to the Post. “Yolanda did something to blind me to make me give up $1 million in two years. I kept sending her money for the business, but I don’t even know if the money went to the business,” she added.
But the money soon ran low and the business fell upon hard times. That’s when Shanhellen says Reyes began neglecting her.
“They treated me like I was a slave,” she told the Post. “They’d go out shopping and come back with all new stuff and wouldn’t get me anything.”
After consulting with her sister Angelina, Shanhellen decided to try to recoup the money she was bamboozled out of. First there was a small-claims case to recover the money spent on the SUV.
Then, last week, Brooklyn Civil Court Judge Noah Dear wrote: “The trial evidence established that the defendants, together with . . . Ms. Reyes, have bilked the plaintiff for hundreds of thousands of dollars. [Yolanda] Reyes took full advantage of the plaintiff. They used her as their meal ticket.”
Judge Dear said he found the Dominican deal “particularly troubling.”
“Ms. Jimenez has already suffered once as a result of the tragedies of 9/11. She should not be made a victim a second time,” he wrote.
While Shanhellen tries to sort out her predicament, she and her sister are living on food stamps and welfare. Both sisters are toiling at minimum wage jobs and are five months behind on their rent.
As for Yolanda Reyes, she claims she never took advantage of Shanhellen and that she has every intention of paying her back as soon as the Dominican property is sold.
“We opened doors to her, and she lived here for years, and we took care of everything,” she told the Post. “Yes, she gave us gifts, but we gave her a roof, food and family.”
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