WESTMORELAND — Edward Baldasaro. Michael Baldasaro. John DiGregorio. Giovanni Mageri. Karl Spear. William Symare. Geo. Two Ton.
His real name is John P. Baldasaro, a quick-witted, articulate 45-year-old convicted felon detained at the Cheshire County jail in Westmoreland, accused of robbing a pair of local convenience store owners while masquerading as a U.S. marshal.
Baldasaro, who has a history of impersonating federal agents and police, is wanted throughout New England on charges ranging from vehicle theft to kidnapping to being a fugitive from justice.
When he leaves New Hampshire, he expects to serve 19 years in a federal penitentiary for violating parole in Vermont. He’s already spent more than half his life behind bars.
“Am I worried about what’s on the other side of that fence — a prison? No,” Baldasaro said during a recent jailhouse interview.
In the mid-’90s, Baldasaro was convicted of robbing and kidnapping a couple in Vermont while posing as a state trooper. He was featured on the television show “America’s Most Wanted” for the crime, which landed him in prison for 12 years. He was released last September.
“I committed the crime, without a doubt,” Baldasaro said. “At the time I thought they were drug dealers. Unfortunately the people that got robbed were the wrong folks.”
Baldasaro has a wife who works at a law firm in Boston. They were married in a Virginia prison. His wife has a young foster son who calls Baldasaro his father. The boy often asks when he’ll see his dad again. Baldasaro also has an adult son who lives in Texas. And one of Baldasaro’s brothers is a member of the N.H. House.
“We had good parents. He just chose a different road. He had issues mentally growing up,” said state Rep. Alfred P. Baldasaro, 52, of Londonderry. “He was always hyper. He was always on the go.”
‘Champagne taste with beer money’
A sword-pierced heart and “Death Before Dishonor” is tattooed on John Baldasaro’s right forearm. Another tattoo placed higher on the same arm claims allegiance to the Dirty White Boys prison gang, which associates with the Aryan Brotherhood and Texas Syndicate, but does not follow strict white supremacist philosophies.
On his left forearm is a tattoo of a baby devil clutching a pitchfork between the words “Born To Be Busted.”
“When I got that tattoo I was 15. I was a little punk kid. We can sit here and look back from 40 years later and say, ‘Was this destiny?’ I’m not going to take that position,” he said.
John Baldasaro grew up in Cambridge, Mass. — his grandfather was once the city’s mayor — with four sisters and three brothers. He said he spent a lot of time on the streets of South Boston.
“I had an extensive juvenile record,” he said.
Now 6 feet tall and 260 pounds, John Baldasaro was also a large kid, which earned him the enduring nickname “Two Ton” around the same time he was running the streets and committing small crimes.
A doctor prescribed the young John Baldasaro a drug similar to Ritalin to control his hyperactivity, and his parents did all they could to keep him out of trouble, Alfred Baldasaro said.
“Our mother especially was a wreck when he was out on the streets, worrying if he was going to get into trouble,” he said. “He was the type that would not get a real gun, but a fake gun. She worried that he would be shot with real bullets.”
In the early ’80s, five years after Alfred Baldasaro joined the Marines, John Baldasaro visited him at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
John Baldasaro befriended a Marine who had just cashed a paycheck, lured him away from the base during a night of drinking, and then robbed him and left him stranded, Alfred Baldasaro said.
“My brother is a scammer. My brother has mental issues. His mind races too fast. But he’s no dummy. He’s a very intelligent kid,” he said.
“John wants the big cars and the money and the nice house. He wants that champagne taste with beer money.”
In January, four months before John Baldasaro’s latest arrest, Alfred Baldasaro spoke with his troubled brother for the first time in 18 years.
“I wouldn’t give him my cell number or home address because I was worried that he might come over and help himself to what I’ve got at my house,” Alfred Baldasaro said. “He should have never been released. They should have kept him on a program to help him and treat his psychiatric issues.”
‘He was just really, really smart’
On the morning of May 11, John Baldasaro flashed a holstered gun and badge and convinced the owners of Khyber Convenience Store and the Big Deal store on Route 9 in Chesterfield that he was a U.S. marshal investigating a counterfeit money operation, according to police.
“The guy was professional. He was just really, really smart,” Paul Saba, owner of Big Deal, said shortly after he was robbed. “I was working with him as an agent. I was trying to help this federal agent with what he was trying to do.”
After both store owners handed over money from their cash registers, Baldasaro took Khyber owner Fayyaz Awan to his bank and convinced him to withdraw money from his account for supposed counterfeit testing, according to prosecutors.
Baldasaro allegedly scammed Saba and Awan out of more than $10,860.
He adamantly denies committing any type of robbery or kidnapping in Chesterfield.
“Did I put a gun to somebody and rob them? No. Did I actually threaten to take something from somebody? No. Did I tell somebody, ‘You must go do this?’ No,” he said.
“I find it ludicrous that the police department would state that it was I who committed this particular crime. I was clearly just a known subject that they decided they wanted to put a particular crime on.”
Prosecutors say they have surveillance images of Baldasaro in a bank when the robber was taking money from Awan’s account. He admits to being in the bank, but said he wasn’t doing anything illegal.
Preparing for yet another legal battle
Law libraries in the various prisons where Baldasaro has lived off and on for 28 years have given him a working knowledge of the legal system. He worked as a law clerk in one prison library. He also obtained his GED in prison.
He represented himself in court during a trial in White River Junction, Vt., that resulted in his latest stint in prison. He was already serving a three-year sentence in Connecticut for impersonating a U.S. marshal when the trial began.
Baldasaro said he represented himself during an armed robbery trial in Boston, and the jury found him not guilty.
“Any good court case, I guess it’s like playing chess,” he said. “It’s about strategy. That’s what it really comes down to.”
Baldasaro said he plans to defend himself against the charges tied to the Chesterfield robberies.
“Do I think that Cheshire County would be so naive to think I would get a public ‘pretender’ who’s going to come in and tell me he’s got 70 other cases and he’s going to give my case about five minutes a week?” he said. “I’m not going to allow that to happen.”
An evidence hearing in Keene District Court was scheduled today for Baldasaro.
Cheshire County Attorney Peter W. Heed said today that he was unaware of Baldasaro’s intent to represent himself in court.
“If he wants to handle his own defense, that will be up to the judge to decide whether he’s competent to do that,” Heed said.
If probable cause is found at today’s hearing, Baldasaro’s case will be moved to Cheshire County Superior Court.
Baldasaro said he will not negotiate a guilty plea with prosecutors. He wants to face off with Heed.
“I can guarantee that this is going to be an interesting trial,” he said. “Him and I are going to have a battle.”
An endless boat ride; no place to dock
Vanessa D. Baldasaro waited a dozen years for her husband to be released from prison. They spent the time talking and dreaming. They wanted to save their money to buy a house. John Baldasaro wanted an automotive shop.
“We had all these plans and dreams of owning our future, starting from scratch and working our way up,” she said. “And then he came out. I’d waited 12 years for this and in 12 seconds it was gone.”
They met through one of John Baldasaro’s sisters. He was in prison, but they talked over the phone and, once she thought she knew him well enough, visited him in 2000 for the first time.
“I’m African-American and he’s Italian. But we just hit it off. He actually listened to me. We took the time to really know each other first. I just understood John,” Vanessa Baldasaro said.
They were married a year after their first face-to-face meeting.
“You just call and tell the prison you want to get married on a certain day. I drove 10 hours down there and that’s what we did,” she said. “The pastor was there. He married us right there in the visiting room.”
When John Baldasaro finally left prison behind to start another life with his wife, he said he was slapped with the reality that the world had changed dramatically and no one wanted to hire him.
“Employment, I guess, in a sense, was probably not forthcoming. When I went to prison there were no cell phones, no computers,” he said. “You get out of prison after 17 years — you’re not going to be getting a job.”
Vanessa Baldasaro noticed her husband’s frustration. He became more and more restless. The life they’d planned together began to unravel.
“He wanted to catch up with what he lost and his mind just started to go too fast,” she said. “His mind just goes so fast. It could be 5 o’clock in the morning and I wake up looking for him and he’s sitting out in the living room, just thinking.”
In the mornings, he dropped her off at work at the law firm and then drove her car to his job as an oversize load escort on the highways — or at least that’s what he told her.
She said she eventually figured out that he was lying.
“The streets make him kind of crazy,” she said. “If he’s not confined … when he’s out there there’s only so much to do. He needs that confinement.”
Then her car disappeared in November. John Baldasaro said it broke down in New York and he needed her to wire him $1,000 to have it fixed. Vanessa Baldasaro said she rented a car and drove to an address in the Bronx where her husband said her car was parked.
“It was a bogus address. My car was in Boston the whole time. My sister had already wired him the money,” she said. “I was surprised he was doing all that to me. I know I’m supposed to forgive, but inside I’m still angry.”
Then one evening she was watching TV and saw John Baldasaro’s mug shot on the local news. She hadn’t seen her husband since the incident with her car. Federal agents and police throughout New England were searching for him, the newscaster said.
Her anger gave way to fear.
“When the (U.S. Marshals Service) task force was really going after him, I told them the gun they thought he had was a toy,” she said. “I was scared for him.”
John Baldasaro was arrested a few days after the Chesterfield robberies at a Manhattan hotel.
It wasn’t the first time he was nabbed in the Big Apple. Many years earlier, the authorities found him in the city and he leaped from a second-story window to avoid arrest and broke both his ankles, Alfred Baldasaro said.
Vanessa Baldasaro has begun listening to her friends who had warned her to stay away from John Baldasaro.
She said she is trying to erase him from her life, but it’s difficult. She still cries when she thinks about him going back to prison.
“I am moving on,” she said. “I still think about what we could have been together.”
Her 5-year-old foster son, Louis, who looks at John Baldasaro as a father figure, is still waiting for his dad to come home. Vanessa Baldasaro said she hints that it will be a long time before he returns, but she cannot bring herself to tell the boy the truth.
“I tell him he’s on a boat,” she said. “He’s on a boat ride and he cannot dock.”