Graffiti vandal gets slap on wrist

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Residents of several East End neighborhoods and a police official expressed frustration yesterday that Daniel Montano, a prolific graffiti vandal with a long history, walked out of Common Pleas Court on Monday with no probation, five days spent in jail and restitution of $1,001.

"Ridiculous," said Tony Ceoffe, executive director of Lawrenceville United.

"I'm livid," said Jet Lafean, a member of the Schenley Farms Neighborhood Block Watch network, who said his group has documented 81 locations where Mr. Montano's signature tagline, "MFONE," and its variations have been scrawled.

Police Cmdr. Kathy Degler of the Squirrel Hill station, who has followed the case since the beginning, said, "We work hard on these [cases]. It's just so discouraging." She said Mr. Montano has been through the legal system before, as a juvenile.

On Monday, he made a general guilty plea for three graffiti sites that were presented into evidence, said Mike Manko, the district attorney's spokesman. In doing so, he admitted his tag was "MFONE." When asked why no more than three sites were considered, Mr. Manko said the district attorney's office acted on the evidence presented by police.

"MFONE" and its reverse, "ENOFM" began appearing on the sides of buildings, trash bins and bridges several years ago throughout East Liberty, Oakland, Bloomfield and Shadyside.

The 21-year-old Montano was arrested last August for criminal mischief after having been spotted spraying a wall in East Liberty. Officer Morgan Jenkins responded to the call, chased Mr. Montano, caught him and found spray paint on his hands and spray cans in his backpack.

After a formal arraignment in March, his nonjury trial was set for last Wednesday.

According to Mr. Lafean, who has attended several legal proceedings involving Mr. Montano, Judge John A. Zottola was outraged last week when the defendant did not raise his hand to be sworn in. Mr. Lafean said the judge "verbally tore into" Mr. Montano for his expressions of disdain and disrespect, ordered him handcuffed and taken away, then retreated to his chambers.

The judge moved the trial date back five days and ordered Mr. Montano to spend those five days in the Allegheny County Jail. He counted that time as sufficient punishment in the sentencing phase Monday. Judge Zottola was not available for comment.

Now that the district attorney's office has one admission of Mr. Montano's guilt, Mr. Lafean said he hopes the law will make him account for more than three vandalized sites.


Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.


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