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An accused squatter was arrested for harassment after allegedly invading the Central Park South home of an elderly photographer and former model who once palled around with Salvador Dali.
“It’s been a dreadful situation,” said Bettina Cirone, 87, who has lived in her rent-stabilized one bedroom, 900-square-foot pad for 28 years.
She met Song Sook Kim, 50, a Korean immigrant who had spent time in Utah, at a local church luncheon in the fall. Cirone hired her to help with daily tasks and getting to appointments.
But Cirone — who struggles with a shoulder injury, declining vision and uses a walker — claims Kim was a nightmare, screaming at her and rarely lifting a finger to help.
“She gets enraged and starts screaming at the top of her lungs, telling me, ‘You’re crazy … you really need 24-hour help!’ She doesn’t give me an hour’s help,” Cirone said of Kim, who was arrested Thursday night, following Post inquiries.
The brutal daily existence was a farcry from Cirone’s glamorous former life, when she worked for a decade as a model before encountering and being sketched by Dali, dined with Andy Warhol, and met then-Mayor John Lindsay at a friend’s belly-dancing gig.
Turning to the other side of the camera, her lens captured everyone from actresses Lillian Gish and Joan Crawford to Diana Ross, Kurt Vonnegut, John F. Kennedy Jr. and Mother Theresa. She published her photos in The Post and other outlets.
She settled in the doorman building overlooking Central Park in the 1990s, enjoying views of Columbus Circle from her fourth-floor apartment, for which she pays about $1,800 a month with a senior citizen discount. The market rent for such a space is about $4,500.
Cirone paid Kim $20 an hour for a few hours of work each day as a come-and-go aide, but wanted to fire Kim in early December, within a week or two of hiring her, she said. But Kim’s friend claimed Kim had nowhere to go, and asked Cirone to let her stay over a few nights.
After five days, Cirone told Kim’s friend that Kim had to go — but the friend was unable to get Kim to agree, Cirone said. A few nights turned into five months, with Kim constantly begging for more time to find a new place as she took over a daybed in the living room, Cirone alleged.
The two began calling police on each other beginning in March. Eventually, Cirone says her landlord told her to refuse Kim entry, which prompted Kim to call the NYPD.
“The police told me that if I do not let her in, that they will arrest me,” Cirone claimed. “She told police that I hit her and use her as a slave … She’s acting like I’m the trespasser in my own apartment.”
Once Kim stayed more than 30 days, she triggered something commonly known as “squatter’s rights,” typically requiring a judge’s approval to oust her, according to veteran housing attorney Jeffrey Saltiel.
With a giant Housing Court backlog created by Gov. Cuomo’s eviction moratorium, and new pandemic protections for tenants, it could have taken years for Cirone to get help via the courts, said Saltiel.
Cirone said she can’t afford an attorney, and neighbor Jane Goodman, who tried for months to help Cirone, claimed there was little response from the city agencies, even Adult Protective Services.
“I’ve been making calls, and have been punted from one organization to the next,” Goodman said. “We had police here over and over, dozens of times, and they wouldn’t do anything.”
APS and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office declined comment to The Post.
The NYPD acknowledged it visited the building 12 times between March 13 and April 28 in response to complaints from both women, but did not respond to questions about what prompted the arrest, which came just hours after The Post’s inquiry.
Kim did not enter a plea during the Manhattan Criminal Court proceeding Friday. She was ordered to stay away from Cirone, except to retrieve some belongings with a police escort Saturday, and released on her own recognizance.
“I’m happy that she’s gone, but I’m not completely convinced that she’s gone,” said Cirone, who credited The Post for getting Kim out.
Goodman agreed: “There’s no question in my mind that if [The Post] hadn’t gotten involved none of this would have been resolved.”
Kim did not return messages seeking comment.
Additional reporting by Conor Skelding
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