Police nab suspect in rent fraud


Yvonne Cusack thought she’d found the perfect place to live when she answered an ad on Craigslist for a two-bedroom mobile home in Ridgeville.

The $500 rent was within her budget and her 5-year-old daughter would finally have her own room. What’s more, her prospective landlord seemed so friendly and accommodating. Cusack, who had been out of work for eight months, said she plunked down her last $1,000 in savings as a deposit and informed her new landlord she’d be moving in soon.

“She replied, ‘Great. I hope you enjoy your new home,’ ” Cusack, 39, said.

The problem was, the woman Cusack handed her money to in March had no right to rent the property. Bethany Martinelli didn’t own it. She was just renting as well, authorities said.

But that didn’t stop Martinelli, 37, from taking money from Cusack and three others she allegedly hoodwinked with the same rental scam, according to arrest affidavits.

Some of the would-be renters didn’t realize they’d been had until they all showed up on April Fool’s Day looking to move in to the same place, according to an incident report. Martinelli is accused of fleecing the group out of about $3,600, arrest affidavits stated.

Martinelli, who has a history of criminal fraud, is now in jail following her arrest Friday in Summerville by U.S. Marshals, Dorchester County sheriff’s deputies and local police. Dorchester County has charged her with four counts of obtaining money by false pretenses, and she is subject to felony property crime enhancement penalties due to her criminal history, sheriff’s Lt. Tony Phinney said.

Martinelli’s criminal record in South Carolina includes convictions for check fraud, breach of trust and driving under suspension, according to the State Law Enforcement Division.

Martinelli, who also goes by Bethany Russell and Bethany Guyton, is also wanted by the Horry County Sheriff’s Office for failure to appear on a stolen vehicle charge and the Denton County (Texas) Sheriff’s Office for felony theft of property, Brad Dorn of the U.S. Marshals Service said.

Dorchester County deputies began investigating Martinelli after they received complaints that she was posting fraudulent rental ads for 116 Western Sun Dr. on Craigslist. A police report indicates that property is actually owned by a Goose Creek man. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

Christopher Batissa of Temple said he and his fiancee fell for the ad and gave Martinelli $800 as a deposit. But when they tried to get the keys to move in, she kept coming up with excuses: She had overslept. Her dad was sick. Her dad had died.

Then, after Batissa threatened to take the matter to a magistrate, he received a text from a man claiming to be Martinelli’s husband. Batissa said the man told him Martinelli had been in a bad car wreck and was about to be operated on.

Not believing the tale, Batissa said he went to the Ridgeville home and found Martinelli without a scratch on her. He called the Sheriff’s Office and, in the presence of a deputy, Martinelli wrote Batissa a check to cover his loss, a report stated.

The check later bounced, Batissa said. “I am usually real good at reading people, but she got by me.”

Cusack, now working as a machinist, said she too was taken in by the ruse and nearly found herself homeless as a result. She said she can’t get over how Martinelli kept up the story knowing that Cusack and her young daughter had no savings to fall back on.

“To me, that’s just heartless.”