Published August 15. 2014 3:33PM Updated August 16. 2014 12:35AM
Jason Piontkowski Sr., a longtime volunteer for New London’s youth football program who was convicted of a 1994 drive-by shooting, has confessed to robbing the People’s United Bank in Mystic on July 18 in order to pay his bills.
Piontkowski, 39, of 55 Linden St., New London, has been held in lieu of $150,000 bail at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center since Stonington police charged him July 31 with first-degree robbery and second-degree larceny.
He is accused of entering the bank at about 11:20 a.m., displaying a handgun and ordering the teller to fill a plastic bag with cash. He left the bank with $10,400, according to an arrest warrant affidavit prepared by police Detective Cody L. Floyd. He pleaded not guilty this week during his first appearance in the New London court, where major crimes are tried. His next court date is Sept. 10.
Following the robbery at the Roosevelt Street bank, police provided surveillance photos of the suspect to The Day and other media outlets. In the days that followed they were contacted by people who recognized Piontkowski in the photos, according to the affidavit.
On July 29, Piontkowski went to the police department with his attorney, Ralph U. Bergman of Norwich, and provided a notarized, typed confession, the affidavit says. Piontkowski admitted he committed the crime in “foolish and frantic desperation” following a lengthy period of unemployment, according to the affidavit. He said he put an old toy gun in his pocket and drove around for a few hours before entering the bank at 12 Roosevelt Ave. and demanding money.
Piontkowki said his son would have been “thrown out” of college if he didn’t come up with $6,000 for tuition and other expenses, that he was behind on rent and threatened with eviction and that he needed money to repair his car, according to the affidavit. He said he had been out of work for 18 months, had run out of unemployment compensation and had applied for “job after job” with no results. He said he been able to find occasional landscaping work, but it brought in little money.
Piontkowski served as president of the New London Youth Football League last year and was an assistant coach with the program for several years despite a criminal history that included a 1995 conviction for a drive-by shooting and a 1992 larceny conviction.
The youth football league is a private organization, but its volunteers are required to undergo background checks because the league uses city fields and facilities. Tommie Major, the city’s director of recreation, said he and others were aware of Piontkowski’s history but added that Piontkowski was qualified as a volunteer because his convictions were in the past.
“If it’s five years in the past, then he’s able to participate,” Major said, noting that when the city instituted the policy approximately nine years ago, he requested an eight- to 10-year waiting period. Still, Major said, Piontkowski was passionate about the football program, worked hard, and always acted in the best interest of the kids.
“People make mistakes and should have the opportunity to reform,” Major said. “If a person does reform, they can speak to kids and tell kids their experiences.”
As for the new charges against Piontkowski, “I don’t think people should rush to judgment,” he said. “Sometimes people make a mistake. These are awful and difficult times.”
In the April 18, 1994, incident, which is described in news stories in The Day archives as a gang-related shooting, Piontkowski, then 19, was charged with five counts of attempted murder after police said he fired a gun out of a car window at five people who were standing on the basketball court at Jenkins Memorial Park on Mechanic Street in Norwich. No one was injured.
Piontkowski, who was living in Norwich at the time of the shooting, left the area and was arrested in Newark, N.J., in January 1995. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of attempted first-degree assault and in September 1995 was sentenced to six years in prison.