NEW YORK – A man wanted for questioning about the Washington-area sniper suspects is being held in a New York jail on passport fraud charges.
Peter John Gianquinto Jr., a 53-year-old felon who has used several aliases, was arrested Nov. 4 as he left his doctor's office in Manhattan.
He appeared in federal court the following day on charges he submitted a bogus Rutgers University ID card to obtain a passport.
Authorities in the Caribbean island of Antigua have linked Gianquinto to sniper suspect John Muhammad, saying that the two men were seen there together several times.
"They purchased things together like TVs, VCRs. They were both scam artists," said John Fuller, head of a government task force investigating Muhammad's activities.
He said the men bought items together using checks that bounced, then resold them.
Muhammad, whose name then was John Allen Williams, was detained by police in Antigua on March 13, 2001, on suspicion of using falsified documents to smuggle people into the United States, authorities said.
He escaped from a police station the same day, and authorities believe he traveled to the United States soon afterward.
He returned to Antigua on May 20, 2001, using the name John Allen Muhammad and went to stay at the Pineapple Beach hotel, where Gianquinto also was staying, Fuller said.
Antiguan investigators suspect Gianquinto may have temporarily served as guardian for Muhammad's kids, Fuller said.
Gianquinto left Antigua and moved to the United States on May 27, 2001, and Muhammad left five days later with his three children and a fourth person who investigators believe was co-defendant John Lee Malvo, Fuller said.
According to court records, Gianquinto went to Seaside Heights, N.J., where he had an apartment.
Fuller said Gianquinto had a legitimate U.S. passport but before it expired had applied for another one using falsified documents.
At the Nov. 5 hearing, magistrate judge Gabriel Gorenstein initially granted Gianquinto $50,000 bond, but prosecutors in South Carolina persuaded a judge to rescind the bail before he was released. He was charged in South Carolina because his passport application was processed in Charleston, S.C.
Court documents make no mention of any involvement in the sniper attacks, but Lt. David Szalkowski, a Seaside Heights detective, said FBI agents had been seeking Gianquinto for questioning in the case.
Gianquinto's lawyer, Steve Statsinger, did not return a call for comment.
His landlord in Seaside Heights, Edna Mazzanti, described him as a meticulous, well-dressed man who tried to impress people with purported music industry connections.
"He was clean, clean, clean — and what an actor," she said Wednesday.
At various times, Gianquinto — who had bleached blond hair — said he worked at MTV, was a lifeguard, was a dancer with Michael Jackson, and was related to the owners of Mellon Bank, she said.
It wasn't entirely hard to believe, Mazzanti said. Sometimes, she said, a limousine would pick him up for trips he said were to New York, a two-hour drive from the New Jersey shore community.
Mazzanti said she found his apartment trashed after he apparently left the area in late October, shortly after the sniper suspects were captured. Someone ripped out linoleum and wall coverings, drilled holes in the sink and tore a heating register out of the wall, she said.
Mazzanti said FBI agents came to Seaside Heights on Oct. 31 to ask about Gianquinto, but never mentioned any link to the sniper suspects.
Gianquinto's criminal record includes numerous arrests on fraud and larceny charges and two felony convictions, according to an affidavit filed by federal investigators. He has used at least six aliases, the affidavit said.
He had no contacts with police during his time in New Jersey, according to Szalkowski, the Seaside Heights detective.
FBI agents said they wanted to question him in the sniper shootings investigation, but didn't say why, Szalkowski said.
The FBI had no immediate comment.