Sunday, September 23, 2018
News Roundup

Tampa tow case shooter packed passel of lies, fooled lawyers with false ID

TAMPA — For the six years the state spent investigating and convicting towing company owner Donald Montanez for killing a man trying to get his car back, prosecutors never knew Montanez's real name or his criminal past.

Just days before sentencing, they know. He is Donald Rivera. He has a long criminal history. He has impersonated cops since 1986. He has convictions in Pennsylvania, Texas and Florida and once spent two years in prison. He was ineligible to carry the concealed weapons permit he wore taped to a badge in January 2006 when he shot a motorist driving away in his just-towed car.

In a memorandum to Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente released Tuesday, Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner wrote: "Over the course of the defendant's life, he has used four different dates of birth and six different Social Security numbers to avoid accurate identification … and full punishment."

Rivera fooled his defense lawyer, too, who said he never worked harder on a case. "I've known him for 10 years," said Jay Hebert. "I always knew him as Donald Montanez."

The truth about Rivera became known during a recent dig into his past by the Department of Corrections and by State Attorney's Office investigator Sally Blevins. Fingerprints were his undoing. His true history will be presented Friday when Rivera is sentenced for third-degree felony murder.

Pruner will ask for a life sentence. Hebert will ask for 25 years, the minimum sentence allowed.

"He is not worthy of this honorable court's trust or leniency," the prosecutor wrote.

Throughout, Rivera has portrayed himself as honest, hard-working Hillsborough County businessman Donald Montanez. He falsely claimed to have graduated from Penn State University. He falsely claimed to be the guardian of his dead sister's three children. He said he was trying only to protect his employees when he shot motorist Glen Rich driving off in his Chrysler Sebring.

Rivera initially sought immunity from prosecution under Florida's "stand your ground" law.

Investigators found that the gun Rivera used to shoot Rich was purchased from Kastle Keep Guns in Largo after Rivera lied on an application and used false identification. He also lied on his application for renewal of his concealed weapons permit, not mentioning his probation for domestic violence in Texas.

The prosecution claimed that Rivera wore black clothes and a bullet-proof vest to make owners of towed cars believe he was a policeman.

In 1986, just released from a two-year prison term for burglary in Pennsylvania, he was arrested twice there for "impersonating a public servant." He got a year's probation. He began calling himself Donald DiMartino.

Two years later, he was still DiMartino when he was arrested for impersonating an officer in Sunrise, near Fort Lauderdale. He got probation again.

It wasn't until 1997 that he called himself Donald Montanez after his arrest in Carrollton, Texas, on two charges of domestic violence. He was given two years of supervision.

Hebert, his attorney, said most of the revelations, while "surprising," are old cases. He said he thought Rivera was only trying to put his past behind him.

This month, the prosecutor said, Rivera was punished for circumventing restrictions on telephone calls at the jail. Guards said he also advised another inmate, nicknamed "Ms. Pookie," on how to get around the restrictions.

The prosecution says Rivera's most recent lie was a promise he made to the judge while seeking release on bail pending an appeal of his conviction.

"If you can have it in your heart to let me out," Rivera wrote, "I will spend every moment of every day helping (motorist Glen Rich's widow) with the kids."

John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or [email protected]

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