Graffiti tagger 'MFONE' charged with robbery
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Pittsburgh's most infamous graffiti tagger, who declared himself a changed man while serving time for dozens of acts of vandalism, was ordered Thursday to stand trial again, this time on charges that he robbed a Marshall's store at the Waterworks Mall.
A district judge ordered Daniel Montano, 26, to stand trial on counts of robbery, simple assault and retail theft in the Aug. 3 incident, in which Pittsburgh police said he attacked a loss prevention officer and tried to steal more than $450 worth of merchandise.
He was still on parole from a 21/2- to 5-year prison sentence he was handed in 2008, after pleading guilty to 79 counts of vandalizing buildings and other property.
Detectives estimated he caused more than $700,000 in damage to 125 property owners over several years, often spray-painting the tag "MFONE." He continues to pay more than $232,000 in restitution.
While living in pre-release custody from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections two years ago, Mr. Montano reflected on his prison stint to a Post-Gazette reporter, saying that being incarcerated, "turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me."
He said in the June 2010 interview that he found a strange sense of freedom in jail and that it gave him time to focus on his art career.
His attorneys said the tagging was partly the result of a drug habit; Mr. Montano said the spray painting was also "purely impulsive. ... I was on autopilot."
Similarly, he told police officers after his latest arrest that he had "a compulsive urge to steal and admitted stealing items," police wrote in a criminal complaint. Officers said a loss prevention officer spotted Mr. Montano stealing polo shirts, and Mr. Montano assaulted him when he asked him to return the goods.
"As for fighting a loss prevention officer, Montano stated that he had a 'fight or flight' feeling and had the urge to fight to get away," the complaint says. Mr. Montano was still fighting the other man when officers arrived.
A public defender representing Mr. Montano, a former student of the Art Institute of San Francisco, could not be reached for comment Thursday night. Neither could members of his family, who spoke on his behalf during his 2008 sentencing.
His mother, Joanne Lagratta, told the Post-Gazette in 2010 her son would likely stay on a nondestructive path after "drugs brought out the worst in him."
Mr. Montano, at the time, shared her hope.
"I know the way," he said at the time. "All I have to do is follow it."
First Published August 10, 2012 12:00 am