A New Jersey man who spent time with John Allen Muhammad on the Caribbean island of Antigua has been arrested in New York by federal authorities investigating connections between the two men.
Peter John Gianquinto Jr., 53, was detained last week as he left his doctor's office in New York on charges of making false statements when he applied for a passport. Court documents indicate that federal agents quickly focused on Gianquinto in the days after Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17, were arrested, and he is now part of the broader inquiry into the sniper suspects.
Gianquinto left Antigua on May 27, 2001, four days before Malvo and Muhammad, and then lived in Seaside Heights, N.J., for several months, according to court papers and investigators. Last summer, he returned to the same apartment complex but left four days after Muhammad and Malvo were arrested Oct. 24, said his landlords.
Federal agents arrived in Seaside Heights and neighboring Seaside Park, both on the Jersey shore, in the last two weeks seeking information on Gianquinto. "They said they were investigating Muhammad and Malvo and were looking for this guy in connection with that case," said Dave Szalkowski, a detective with the Seaside Heights police.
Investigators from the U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security Service, which investigates passport fraud, found Gianquinto after uncovering a trail of forged documents and tracking him through New Jersey and to New York, authorities said. Officials from the FBI, looking into the connection with Muhammad, also questioned him.
Steven Statsinger, an attorney for Gianquinto in New York, said he had no reason to believe his client is connected to the sniper suspects. The charging documents from Gianquinto's arrest describe only the passport fraud allegations.
"He seemed like a decent fellow who had a string of misfortunes in his family and personal life," Statsinger said, declining to elaborate. "But he has nevertheless retained a positive outlook on life, and as far as I can see, he doesn't have a malicious bone in his body."
Several parallels between Gianquinto and Muhammad have sparked interest among investigators here and in Antigua. That country's prime minister, Lester B. Bird, has said Muhammad and Gianquinto were repeatedly seen together in 2001.
Muhammad sold fake identification to enable people to enter the United States illegally, according to authorities in Antigua, who say they want to know whether Gianquinto is linked to those documents.
Gianquinto applied for a passport in January 2001 in his name and presented a bogus Rutgers University identification card, according to papers filed in U.S. District Court in South Carolina. He used that passport to travel from Antigua to New York in April and May 2001, the documents say.
Later that year, in October, he applied for a new passport, saying his old one had been stolen and supplying someone else's Social Security number, court papers say. The false information went undetected, and Gianquinto obtained a passport, which he used three times.
Gianquinto is being held in the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, awaiting transfer to South Carolina, where the passport was issued. Spokesmen for the Diplomatic Security Service and the FBI declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation.
When Gianquinto was arrested, he seemed to be living like a pauper, far from the high-roller life that he boasted about on the Jersey shore. He had a New York state food coupon and a state benefit card, indicating that he was on public assistance.
Before the passport problems, Gianquinto had faced various fraud charges. At one point, prosecutors said, he pretended to work for the Rolling Stones to get gifts and invitations to gala dinners. Another time, he was accused of pretending to work for Elton John to obtain tickets to a charity event. In those cases, officials said, he pleaded guilty to possessing a stolen credit card.
Sally Osgood, owner of a flower shop in Cranford, N.J., said Gianquinto was a regular customer who once bought flowers for rock star Jon Bon Jovi and who would sometimes pull cash from a blue bag. "He would carry so much cash that I would say to him, as a mother would say to a child: 'You really should not carry that much cash. Somebody is going to bop you in the head,' " Osgood said.
Eventually, Osgood said, Gianquinto ran out of money. He purchased flowers on credit and hasn't paid all his bills, she said.
Guy Mazzanti and his wife, Edna, own and manage the small Seaside Heights apartment complex where Gianquinto returned last summer. Gianquinto provided the Mazzantis with a number of stories about his family and background and what he did for a living. He told them that he was working as a lifeguard in nearby Long Beach Island -- an assertion that the Mazzantis said turned out to be false.
Gianquinto also said that his family owned Mellon Bank and that he was looking into buying a condominium in Barnegat, N.J. Gianquinto told the Mazzantis that he had ties to Antigua and generally lived there during the winter. Guy Mazzanti said that Gianquinto claimed to be involved in the music or entertainment industry and that on some evenings he was picked up by a black stretch limousine. "One time he said that he was going to be dancing in one of Michael Jackson's shows in New York," he recalled.
The Mazzantis said they noticed that Gianquinto seemed obsessed with appearing youthful. "He loved surf and beach clothes. He liked to dress like a younger person. He looked like a beach boy," Guy Mazzanti said. "Every day, he would dress in a Hawaiian shirt and a blue cap and blue sunglasses and go to the beach. He was very tanned."
Toward the end of his stay at the apartment, Guy Mazzanti said, Gianquinto befriended five Russian students who were living in one of the apartments. The Russians eventually moved but kept spending a lot of time with Gianquinto, prompting the Mazzantis to ask him if he was putting them up. The relationship with their tenant soured after that, they said.
Before he moved out, Gianquinto stole the kitchen table and curtain rods, among other items, Guy Mazzanti said. He sprayed black paint on a wall, ripped the thermostat off the wall and apparently used a box cutter to carve up the linoleum flooring in the kitchen and bathroom, the landlord said.
At the Windjammer Motor Inn in Seaside Park, the owners said Gianquinto had stayed at the motel off and on for about a week at a time during the last year or so, always during the off-season.
Local police visited the Windjammer and took one of Gianquinto's registration cards and information about a credit card he had used to pay for rooms and other hotel charges, including large telephone bills, said the motel's general manager, Joseph DeFilippis.
DeFilippis said Gianquinto was polite, neat and private. He also offered to give DeFilippis concert tickets and said that if he ever wanted to meet Bruce Springsteen, he could arrange it because he was "great friends" with the rock star, DeFilippis said.
"He told me he had access to concert tickets and that he could get them for me. He asked me if I wanted to go to Britney Spears last year in Philadelphia. He asked me if I needed tickets," DeFilippis said.
He said he had declined Gianquinto's offers.
Staff researchers Margot Williams and Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.