Arrested 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.
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.
“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.”