Shanhellen Jimenez was in seventh grade when her mother was killed in the World Trade Center attacks. That year, the 12 year old was awarded nearly $1 million by the federal September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
The money -- the lion's share to become available to her when she turned 18 -- was more than the middle-schooler could comprehend.
Her divorced mom, Elena Ledesma, had worked as a maintenance supervisor for Marsh and McLennan on the 93rd floor of the north tower, taking home $400 a week. On that paltry paycheck, she supported Shanhellen and Angelina, her 17-year-old daughter, as well as her ailing mother, Candida Hernandez.
[Yolanda] Reyes took full advantage of the plaintiff. They used her as their meal ticket.
- Brooklyn Civil Court judge Noach Dear
On Sept. 12, 2001, Shanhellen and Angelina moved in with their grandmother, who lived across the hall on the fifth floor of the rundown South Third Street walk-up. But she could not care for them.
Two floors below, Shanhellen's godmother, Yolanda Reyes -- her late mother's best friend -- witnessed the sisters' struggle. She told them they could move into her home and promised to care for them as if they were her own.
Shanhellen agreed, but Angelina, who had just collected her own $800,000 in federal compensation, decided against it.
But Reyes proved to be more of a bloodsucking parasite than a fairy godmother, the girls now claim.
Shanhellen is penniless and on welfare after years of being brazenly used as a "meal ticket" by the Reyes family, a Brooklyn judge ruled Thursday.
At first, life with the Reyes brood, a family of eight, was an improvement. "They made it comfortable for me," Shanhellen, now 22, told the New York Post.
In 2007, when Shanhellen reached 18, the Reyes clan started reaching for her cash, she said. They vowed to teach her to drive -- if she gave Yolanda's husband and son-in-law the money to purchase a $12,900 Chevy Trailblazer. She purchased the car and gave them the keys, but the lessons never followed, according to court papers.
But the biggest outlay came when Shanhellen was persuaded to invest her remaining $800,000 in a business property in the Dominican Republic, the court papers said. As the money dwindled, the business went downhill, Shanhellen said, and the Reyes family began neglecting her.
"They treated me like I was a slave," she said, claiming that they stopped feeding her and buying her clothes.
In a scathing ruling, Brooklyn Civil Court judge Noach 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," he added. "They used her as their meal ticket."
Read more at The New York Post.