Tow Truck Driver Arrested, Admits Scamming

Thomas MacMillan PhotoArrested Crown Towing driver Jonathan Esposito admitted he swindled New Haven car owners out of a total of $373—but insists he didn’t steal Rojonna Handy’s money, no matter what a ripped up business card “receipt” says.

Esposito, a 32-year-old East Havener, explained as much during a Wednesday evening phone call.

He was due to appear in court Thursday morning on three larceny charges.

Police arrested Esposito after investigating complaints against Crown Towing, a company with a monopoly city contract to grab cars of people who owe taxes.

Police said Esposito ran the same scam three times on Sept. 20: Pocketing overdue motor vehicle tax money from unsuspecting car owners in exchange for not towing their cars. The car owners thought their debts to the city had been paid, only to have their cars towed days later for outstanding taxes.

Detective Cindy Shaw pieced the case together with the help of business card receipts that Esposito handed out to his victims. She arrested him on Dec. 12.

Esposito admitted to two of the incidents, but said he didn’t take money from Handy—who herself was later arrested with her mom at Crown Towing after they got into a fight with a pregnant clerk there over whether Handy had paid her taxes.

Esposito, who’s diabetic, said he took the money from his two victims to pay for insulin. He said he feels badly about having done it and would like to pay back the people he conned. He said he plans to plead guilty to the charges against him.

Esposito said Crown towing fired him. He has a job interview at a shoe store after he appears in court, he said.

Crown Towing did not return a call for comment. Shaw’s investigation found that Crown Towing owner Albert “Jeff” Hanson had torn up one of Esposito’s phony “receipts,” according to the arrest warrant affidavit.

Crown has a controversial exclusive contract with the city to tow cars with outstanding taxes and to collect tax payments at its office when City Hall is closed.

Shaw Gets Her Man

An arrest warrant application filled out by Detective Shaw details how she followed the trail of swindled car owners and ended up at Esposito.

Here’s what she said happened:

PT Cruiser: On Oct. 26, Shaw was assigned to investigate a complaint by Rojonna Handy, who claimed she had paid $160 to a Crown driver a month earlier, on Sept 20, for taxes owed on her red PT Cruiser. Handy claimed the tow truck driver had been about to tow her car, but put it down when she paid him. He gave her a business card receipt for the payment.

When her car was then towed on Oct. 22, Handy went to Crown towing with the card. She handed it to the clerk. Crown refused to release her car. Handy and her mom fought with the clerk and were arrested. (Click the play arrow to see some of the fight.) Police found the card ripped up in a trash can in the towing office.

Ford Escape: On Oct. 31, the New Haven police tow clerk told Shaw about a similar incident. A woman named Elsie Diaz had reported to police that she had given a tow driver cash for delinquent taxes, then had her car towed a few days later and had to pay the money again. Shaw confirmed this with Diaz, who told her and Detective Jeff Goodwin that she had given the driver $213 on Sept. 20 and received from him a Crown business card “receipt” with the written message: “pd 213.21 tax truck p8438, 203508764 and Joe.”

Diaz told Shaw that when she went to Crown with the business card after her Ford Escape was towed on Sept. 21, she handed it to the clerk, who handed it to the manager, who said, “Here’s another one.”

Crown staff told Diaz the card was not a receipt and that no one named “Joe” worked there. Then she spotted the driver who had taken her cash.

“That’s him,” she told the manager. But the manager simply sent him out on a call.

Diaz paid $449.36 in taxes and towing fees to Crown and reported the incident to the police. She had paid a total of $662.36 to get her car back.

Chevy Blazer: Shaw and Goodwin visited Crown manager Angelo Rivera on Nov. 1. He told her that truck drivers are not allowed to accept cash for taxes or tickets and that they do not have “receipts” or other paperwork for recording payments.

On Nov. 2, Shaw talked with Rivera again. He told her he had seen three different business card “receipts.” He went through Crown’s computer system and gave Shaw information about two of the relevant tows. One was for Diaz’s Escape, the other was for a Chevy Blazer.

Rivera told Shaw that he and Crown owner Hanson had spoken to Esposito about the business cards after Diaz came in. Esposito told them he had simply written down for the car owners how much they owed in taxes, not taken any money.

On Nov. 9, Shaw and Goodwin tracked down the owner of the Chevy Blazer, whose boyfriend, Wilson Cruz, had paid a Crown tow truck driver. Cruz told Shaw that on Sept. 20 he paid the driver $160 for overdue taxes, to prevent his car from being towed. He got a business card receipt in exchange. Then his car was towed the next day.

Crown didn’t accept the business card receipt and Cruz had to go to the tax collector’s office and pay a total of $311.20 in taxes and fees before he could retrieve his car.

Cruz’s girlfriend gave Shaw the business card receipt, which had “Tax 161.20 pd JE” written on the back. At that point in the investigation, Shaw had seen three such cards.

Confession: On Nov. 15, Shaw and Goodwin visited Crown Towing again. They spoke with the owner, Hanson, who told them he had ripped up the business card that Handy produced on Oct. 22 because he knew it was not a receipt.

Esposito, who was at Crown Towing, agreed to be interviewed by the cops. They took him to police headquarters and recorded a statement from him. Presented with photo copies of three different business card “receipts,” Esposito admitted he had taken cash from the owners of the Blazer and the Escape because he needed money to pay for insulin.

Esposito told cops that he never took money for the PT Cruiser; he said he lowered that car because a man was standing between his truck and the car, preventing him from driving it away. He told police that Handy offered him money and he declined it. He just wrote how much she owed on a card for her.

When cops pointed out that the card he handed to Handy had “pd” written on it, Esposito “said that there may be a possibility that he wrote ‘pd’ on the card” during a confusing scene with yelling as he was trying to tow her car.

Esposito Explains

Reached by phone on Wednesday evening, Esposito admitted he’d taken money from Diaz and Cruz. “That’s what ended up happening, yeah.”

He said he didn’t take any money from Handy.

Asked how he was feeling, Esposito said, “I’m feeling all right, right now.”

Asked if he was going to plead guilty, Esposito said yes.

Esposito said Crown fired him on Nov. 15.

He said he got the idea for his crime when he was in training at Crown. He said he went out on a private towing call with “Angel,” the manager. (Esposito said he didn’t know Angel’s last name.) Angel took cash for that call, which is not illegal, Esposito said. But it planted a seed.

“Angel worked out a price with this guy,” Esposito said. He remembered thinking to himself: “If he did that, maybe I can get away with, you know, doing something down the road.”

He said he stole the money to pay for his insulin. It costs $188 per bottle, which lasts him about three weeks. He’s been trying to get assistance, but “the state keeps—excuse my language—fucking around with me.”

Asked if he feels remorseful for what he did, Esposito said, “Yeah, definitely. Because of me, them people had to pay twice. They paid the money to me that I took, then they had to go down to City Hall” and pay it again.

Esposito said Angel told him later, “If you needed money you should have asked me.”

Esposito said he didn’t want to ask for a handout. “I feel bad going up to somebody saying that, but look what happened in the long run.”

He said he wants to pay back the money he stole. He said he’s never been to court before. He asked where he should go and what time he should show up.

Robyn Reacts

“I’m glad justice is being done,” said Robyn Handy (pictured), Rojonna Handy’s mom. “I’m glad that he was arrested. That’s a good thing because they were trying to make it seem like we were lying.”

Robyn said she and Rojonna are still facing assault charges from their fight at Crown Towing. She declined to comment on that.

Pastor Donald Morris (at left in photo), who led a protest on the Handys’ behalf on Oct. 24 outside Crown Towing, said he was pleased by the news of the arrest. He said Chief Dean Esserman had called him last week to let him know police were closing in on a suspect.

“This is serious and great progress,” Morris said. “I’m happy that the police department really investigated this situation. I’m glad this was handled in the way it should have been handled.”

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posted by: Long Time NH Resident on December 20, 2012  10:30am

Surprise, surprise, but 1 bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole basket. Let this be a sign of the of health care in this country

posted by: Curious on December 20, 2012  10:52am

Good for the victims and the people who stoof up for them!

It’s sad that this man’s pride wouldn’t let him ask for help, but that he felt just fine about stealing from innocents.

I hope the city puts the towing contract out to bid again, following this.  Maybe the BOA can make that happen.

posted by: Greg-Morehead on December 20, 2012  11:01am

Are you kidding me?
And the City is still doing business with this company?  After reading this, I am lost for words.  Who knows how many other people he scammed out of money that didn’t come forth or say anything.  The ONLY reason he is coming forth now is because he got caught!  This is CRAZY!!

posted by: Noteworthy on December 20, 2012  11:12am

Here’s what should happen:
1. Crown should make good on all the victims, from its own cash and issue a letter of apology to each person identified by police.

2. The same cash and apology should be given to Handy, out of both an abundance of caution, and because it is highly likely she’s telling the truth. The circumstances and receipt are remarkably similar.

3. Crown should be put on probation for the next 90 days; any further violations would result in immediate termination of contract.

4. The towing contract should be put out for bid immediately, with a new penalty - stealing from the public will be assessed an administrative penalty of $5,000 or 20 times the value of theft whichever is greater, upon confirmation of the theft. And it should not be subject to court order or conviction.

posted by: PH on December 20, 2012  11:38am

Collecting taxes should strictly be a government function.  Outsourcing collections to a private company (and a tow truck company, of all untrustworthy businesses!) is shameful. Rescind the contract for improper and illegal behavior, hire a tax collector and start putting boots on cars.  Adding tow fees to overdue taxes and fines is an outrage, and lining the pockets of tow companies to do a basic government function is disgusting.

posted by: RCguy on December 20, 2012  12:14pm

We all know the Cop and Towtruck trawling brigade is sick and deranged, but we live with it, like fools.

New Urbanist bicyclists won’t help us either, because they want a car-less city.

As Greg Morehead said:
“The ONLY reason he is coming forth now is because he got caught!  This is CRAZY!!”

Now multiply this by EVERY towing company in New Haven, and EVERY driver exponentially…

That’s what the system is.

posted by: jessicab on December 20, 2012  1:07pm

new urbanist bicyclists?  what is this, npr?  the worst thing about them is that they practically lobby for helmet laws.  in that sense, they are the enemy.  i’d like to try a carless city, too.  but no one one is going to make that happen for a while. Unfortunately people pay taxes on vehicles every year.  kind of ridiculous, we pay sales tax, then the city gets paid for us owning a car.  what a scam.  so the city can’t afford a few tow trucks? I am against the towing, also, and the ridiculous street cleaning tows, too. all those stupid looking tow trucks all geared up for sweep day, and many citizens were ill prepared when that started.  hopefully the paycheck for them has wound down.  I was driving my car away from the curb once and an evil looking cop drove up with a parking ticket.  Who gets a ticket for moving? atleast i didn’t get towed.  Its an insane world.  i feel i was forced to look at the streets and say, wow, that looks nice. then realize all the garbage is just pushed down the drain until the next sweep.  the rain does it fine, so its all money.

posted by: Nathan on December 20, 2012  1:30pm

“He said he stole the money to pay for his insulin. It costs $188 per bottle, which lasts him about three weeks. He’s been trying to get assistance, but “the state keeps…”

This is a separate story in itself that deserves investigation; it’s clear from other recent media coverage (and personal experience helping someone) that there are deep and significant problems at the CT Department of Social Services that are preventing eligible people from getting much needed aid.

posted by: jamesbulldg on December 20, 2012  2:16pm

If a pig smells like a pig he is. They should pull the contract from crown towing and fine someone else to screw ua.

posted by: jamesbulldg on December 20, 2012  2:21pm

Also if he is on insulin he should not have a class A license to work for crown DOT says insulin is a no work order for a class A.

posted by: Charl on December 20, 2012  3:30pm

Thank you, New Haven Independent, for excellent investigative journalism, and follow-up on a case that was not properly covered by any other media outlet.  The NHI continues to be a beacon of true journalistic integrity, and the people of greater New Haven are grateful and fortunate to have a true ‘bulldog for the people’ in the NHI.

Now, the excuse for the insulin has absolutely nothing to do with his crimes.

The man is employed, and can not afford 188 dollars every three weeks?  I bet the man owns a vehicle (as opposed to riding a bike, walking, or taking public transportation.)  I also imagine the man owns a cellphone, and has a computer at home and pays for a monthly internet connection.  Oh yeah, he likely pays a monthly cable bill as well.  Let’s see, bought any new clothing or shoes in the past few months?  Does he smoke cigarettes?  Drink alcohol?  Go out to dinner or out to bars and nightclubs?

Anybody that buys the insulin excuse is either willfully ignorant, or allowing this criminal to manipulate your emotions and cloud your thinking.  Please, think critically and examine this case in a logical, rational, and reasonable manner.

The man admitted to at least three separate instances of lying and stealing, all on the same day.  Do you think this man’s actions and intentions have been limited to those three single instances?  If the insulan excuse is valid, then wouldn’t he have had to steal at least $188 every three weeks?  How long has this man been employed?

Also, he does not know the last name of the manager he works for?  Outrageous, and if this company keeps the municipal contract, it will be even more so outrageous.

Where is the outrage?  Why are taxpayers not *demanding* this shady contract be nullified, effective immediately?

posted by: SaveOurCity on December 20, 2012  6:05pm

Does anyone involved with or observing this situation believe for a moment that City Hall is not completely aware of and tacitly supporting of Crown Auto’s behavior?  Look up the large contributors for the DeStefano campaign and Mr Hansen (the owner of Crown Auto) is prominently listed ($1000 for 2011).

The same thing happens with construction projects.  Contributing to Johnny D is a license to steal from the people of New Haven. Can you even come close to explaining an 11 Million Dollar Football Field via any other means?

posted by: CDaniel on December 23, 2012  1:54pm

I’m curious as to how this will affect the mother and daughter who were arrested for assault. This outcome will certainly be brought up in their defence.

posted by: HillVilleAnnex on December 23, 2012  5:55pm

I hope Mr. Esposito will banned from working for Crown or any other towing company licensed to operate in New Haven. 

The justice system has a responsibility protect the people of New Haven from such predators.  This can’t be tolerated.

posted by: HillVilleAnnex on December 23, 2012  6:09pm

Well done, Detective Shaw!  Well done, Chief Esserman!  A fine example of community policing!