When an East Village man got sick from COVID-19 he learned the real pain would come when he got home from the hospital.
Ryo Nagaoka, 60, returned from his months-long battle with the dread disease Wednesday to find out that the management of his building — which is part-owned by ex-Yankee Alex Rodriguez and real estate guru Barbara Corcoran — had thrown all his possessions away, neighbors said.
The only things left behind were his grand piano and his beloved pet tortoise — which had somehow survived for months without food.
“He doesn’t have a toothbrush. He doesn’t have a stove. People have been taking him toilet paper, shoes. Somebody found him a mattress,” said a neighbor.
The restaurant worker didn’t even have his passport, ID or other essential documents, a source said. Residents of the building at 133 Avenue D told Page Six that after Nagaoka had been gone for a few weeks, everyone had assumed he died.
“They were so quick to erase his entire life,” said Sierra Zamarripa, owner of the Lovewild Design gift shop near Nagaoka’s building, which has started a GoFundMe page for him.
A rep for Corcoran defended their actions, saying they “made every effort to locate the Resident including calling local hospitals and contacting Adult Protective Services.”
“After APS was alerted to the situation, an APS caseworker was assigned to the Resident,” the rep, Mitchell Kossoff, said. “Despite the effort of the APS caseworker and this office, the Resident could not be located and the apartment was cleaned by a company that specialized in bio clean-up services on Feb. 17, 2021, in conformity with all governing regulations.”
The trouble started last fall when residents had seen Nagaoka around the building looking seriously ill. They say they could hear him coughing, and noticed that he was struggling to climb the stairs to his fifth-floor apartment.
After around two weeks of watching his health decline, neighbors became so concerned that they called an ambulance for Nagaoka on October 4th, but he refused to go because he couldn’t afford hospital care.
Then in January, a water leak in the apartment above Nagaoka’s prompted the building’s super to knock on his door. When Nagaoka didn’t respond, the super forced his way in and found him unconscious. The ailing man was rushed to the hospital with no belongings — not even his phone.
Neighbors say that around six weeks later, they were saddened to see “junk trucks” outside the apartment and men clearing Nagaoka’s belongings out of his apartment. Most assumed that the building’s management had learned that he had died.
One neighbor called the mortuary to see if they could locate his body, and a friend even posted a “missing person” sign in the lobby, appealing for information about his whereabouts.
Then, on Wednesday night, neighbors were stunned to see Nagaoka standing on the building’s stairs in hospital clothes. He had lost so much weight that he was barely recognizable. He had no keys to his apartment, and had to ask the super to let him in.
When he walked through his apartment door, he found the place was completely empty, save for the piano and his pet, Mr. Tortoise.
Nagaoka, who is extremely shy, is now spending time in his apartment and is “overwhelmed” both by the experience and the generosity of his neighbors. He could not immediately be reached for comment. And he’s relieved to be reunited with Mr. Tortoise, who has been his companion for 22 years.
Meanwhile, neighbors say that some residents who were closer to him had mourned Nagaoka’s death, and are now looking at him “as having been resurrected.”
It’s unclear how the tortoise came to be left in the apartment, but neighbors surmise that the junk company “felt weird throwing out a tortoise.”
Nagaoka, who is believed to have been moved from a Bellevue ICU to Brooklyn rehab center where he spent months, has finally recovered from COVID, neighbors.
Now members of the community are rallying to get some basic belongings for Nagaoka, and to find pro bono legal representation for him. They’re hoping “proper counsel” can get his apartment back, and seek compensation for his lost belonging and the trauma he’s suffered.
Zamarripa says she and others in the community are horrified by how the building’s management treated Nagaoka, who had lived in the building for more than 20 years.
Other neighbors want answers from Rodriguez and Corcoran, who bought the building in 2018 from former Donald Trump attorney, Michael Cohen, while Cohen was scraping up cash to fund his legal defense in his notorious tax and campaign finance violation case.
A rep for A-Rod referred questions to H & H Ventures, which declined to comment.