“Everything you’ve heard about Rikers Island is ten times worse than your worst nightmare.”
That’s how 57-year-old Joe Riccardi of Staten Island described his terrifying nearly year-long ordeal that included a multiple lengthy stays behind bars.
He was finally released from the place he describes as Hell on Earth Dec. 30th. The financial trader spent a total of 181 days behind bars — not for a crime — but for “willfully failing” to obey a court order by Staten Island Judge Lizette Colon.
She held Riccardi in civil contempt for not tearing down a 1,500 square foot addition to his penthouse apartment. Riccardi bought the condominium in 2006 and has been battling with members of the board since 2016, saying he did not build the extension. The board argued in court papers that no matter who constructed the “illegal extension,” it is Riccardi’s responsibility to fix the problem.
The New York City Buildings Department lists an outstanding violation for “work without a permit,” although the complaint does not specify who allegedly did the work and when.
Judge Colon first ordered Riccardi to Rikers in Jan. 2022. He told the I-Team he was shackled, thrown onto a bus and taken to an intake room where he stayed for 12 days.
“There were 30-35 men sitting on benches or lying on the floor. People were going to the bathroom anywhere they wanted,” he said.
He added he got COVID, then was put on a bus and released on a Queens street in the middle of the night. He walked to a bar and asked the owner if he could call home.
Riccardi says he and his wife could not find contractors to do the work and the judge ordered him back to jail a second time. The 57-year-old told the I-Team a gang member attacked him and he was then put in isolation for 107 days.
When released, Riccardi said the family again tried to hire contractors without success.
“We didn’t have the $300,000 or more to remove the addition,” he said, and the judge sent him back a third time for “his misconduct and disobedience and neglect and refusal to comply with said order.”
Riccardi suffered a head injury when the roof of the jail where he was housed collapsed. After a brief hospitalization, he was still imprisoned for a total of 66 days, released after missing Christmas.
“It is mind-boggling and terrifying that this could happen to anyone. I felt like I could die at any time,” he said. “How could a civil dispute land someone in jail with accused murderers and drug dealers?”
The Riccardis say they would just like to get out but can’t sell the condo with the legal controversy pending.
“My worst fear is I could go back a fourth time and I think that would just kill me,” he said.
A Staten Island attorney contacted Riccardi after hearing about his ordeal, and has offered to take the case pro bono.