"I didn't know," says Rosario Onofrio, who's 75 and needs a knee-replacement operation. "I told him to come back when my husband got home, that my husband was strange about the attic."
But the repairman was persistent, and the story seemed plausible. The Onofrios' power had been interrupted the week before. The Onofrios' second daughter, Janet, followed the repairman to the garage and watched as he climbed into the attic. Janet heard him rummaging around in the attic and told him her father didn't like people messing around up there. Just then Joseph Onofrio pulled into the driveway.
Later, Janet would tell the FBI she remembered that the repairman grew visibly nervous when she told him her father was coming. Onofrio talked to the repairman, but was unable to see anything but the back of his head as he climbed down the ladder and walked to the power box on the outside of the garage. The repairman asked Onofrio to go inside and unplug his television set and his microwave oven. Onofrio complied--after all, the guy was out of the attic. Once inside, Onofrio spoke for a few moments with Rosario. When he walked back out, the attic door was closed and the repairman was gone. Now he says he remembers seeing the guy "sort of waddling" away from him down the block with his tool chest wedged between his legs, as if he was carrying something heavy in his arms.
Rosi says this story sounds suspicious. Why didn't Onofrio recognize him if he was the repairman? After all, Onofrio and Rosi had met once at Patricia's house in California.
"He was standing one foot from me, but he couldn't ID me?" Rosi says. "He's got a quarter of a million dollars. What does he do? He goes back inside and doesn't call the cops, even after he saw him shuffling down the street. . . . Why did this guy not check the money?"
Onofrio admits he doesn't see very well anymore--he lost one eye to a cataract and may need surgery on the other. And he says he only saw the side of Rosi's face and the back of his head the day he met him at Patricia's. And the repairman was wearing dark glasses.
(Later, both Rosario and her daughter Janet would identify a photograph of Rosi as the repairman. Rosi says he's being set up, or, alternately, that perhaps his father, Jim Edwards, bilked the Onofrios. Rosi says he looks exactly like his dad.)
Patricia Onofrio told the FBI she called her father two days after the repairman's visit, because she had heard that Rosi had left California. She was worried about what he might be up to. She regretted having mentioned the strongbox in the presence of Rosi. She felt even worse when Edwards told her his son had mentioned that it would be easy for someone to steal Onofrio's money.
Because Rosi is a California resident, and the strongbox was stolen in Arizona, the FBI got involved. In the weeks after Onofrio's money disappeared, Rosi went on a spending spree.
"That scum bought Rolex watches, $7,000 each, with our money," Rosario Onofrio says. "He doesn't care about anyone; he has no feeling for anyone he hurts."
Rosi also bought several cars--a 1979 Porsche for $27,000, an old Lincoln stretch limousine for $16,500, a brand-new Chevy Blazer and a former girlfriend's used Honda. Until March 1, he rented an apartment in San Francisco. Then he dropped out of sight.
Or, as Rosi puts it, he went back to work. He says he went back to Los Angeles, then to Hawaii, where he says he had 400 cars to sell. He says it isn't unusual for him to live large--he makes a lot of money legitimately. While he grants that his auto-detailing and limousine services in Hawaii and Los Angeles have closed within the past few years, he says his San Diego location is still thriving. (If it is, it isn't listed. A San Diego operator could find no listing for any business with that name--or anything close to that name.)
"I buy and sell used cars," he says. "I owned a big house . . . and a successful business for 15 years."
Rosi's father, however, told the FBI his son was broke in January.
On March 27, Rosi surfaced in Denver, where he says he went to ski. The FBI arrested him there. He was extradited to Phoenix, and earlier this year was convicted on federal charges of transporting stolen property across state lines. He was sentenced to two years in prison.