Revealing new details in the investigation into the March car crash that killed 18-year-old Eric MacLean, a police affidavit filed last week in Edgartown District Court unleashes an array of allegations that a Tisbury taxi operation and a car and moped rental business are involved in a counterfeit inspection sticker scam that extends far beyond the fatal crash.
Police believe that Jeffrey Cimeno, the owner of Patti's Taxi Service and the son of Robert and Patricia Cimeno, who own Beach Road Rentals, not only possesses fake inspection stickers but also has been manufacturing them for use on taxis, his own private vehicle and even the 1979 Jeep that Robert Cimeno sold last June to James O'Brien.
Mr. O'Brien's son, Seamus, was driving the Jeep on March 28 when it veered off County Road in Oak Bluffs. Mr. MacLean was the passenger. Police investigating the accident discovered the Jeep had severely defective steering and a phony inspection sticker.
Two witnesses later told police the inspection serial number on the Jeep's counterfeit sticker matched exactly the number seen on a sticker on a Patti's Taxi van.
In the affidavit filed last week, state police Sgt. Neal J. Maciel wrote: "It is the opinion of this officer that Jeffrey Cimeno is in possession of counterfeit inspection stickers and has access to or has made inspection stickers using equipment to reproduce and make inspection stickers that resemble stickers issued at legitimate inspection stations."
Last week, more than two months after the accident, police raided both Jeffrey Cimeno's home in Oak Bluffs and the business on Beach Road and seized computer equipment, including a color ink-jet printer and image scanner, various colors and kinds of paper and an old copy of the Martha's Vineyard Times, the March 29 edition of the paper which carried front-page news of the fatal crash.
While the Cimenos have denied any role in counterfeit inspection stickers, the affidavit used to obtain court approval for search warrants details an investigation which slowly began to fuel police suspicions about the Cimenos' involvement.
First, in a three-hour interrogation on April 6, Seamus O'Brien's twin brother, Sean, told police that after the Jeep failed inspection last June, he brought the car back to Beach Road Rentals, where he was also an employee. He claimed Mr. Cimeno scraped the rejection sticker from the Jeep's windshield and applied a new sticker on the spot.
It's unclear in the affidavit to what extent police investigated those allegations. The next step in the chronology of the case goes to April 23, more than two weeks after Sean O'Brien's statement, when Patricia Bergeron, Eric MacLean's mother, notified police she had received anonymous telephone calls about fake inspection stickers on Patti's Taxi vehicles. At this point, Sergeant Maciel wrote, "I began looking into the inspection history of this company's vehicles."
What Sergeant Maciel learned at this juncture was that the two vehicles registered to Patti's Taxi had no record of ever being inspected. "I attempted to locate the cabs," he wrote. "I was unable to find the vehicles parked on a public way, only when they were parked at 16 Bridle Path Road [Jeffrey Cimeno's Oak Bluffs residence]. The vehicles were parked in a manner that I could not see the stickers on the windshield from the street."
Again, another two weeks passed until May 9, when police questioned Robert and Patricia Cimeno in the presence of their attorney. According to the police document, the Cimenos "denied any involvement in obtaining, selling, making counterfeit inspection stickers or placing the inspection sticker on the O'Brien Jeep."
Almost three weeks later, police got a tip from a MacLean family member, Paula O'Connor, who did some investigative work of her own. She told police that on May 2, she drove to Bridle Path Road and saw the Patti's Taxi vehicle in a circular driveway facing the roadway. She approached the taxi and wrote down the inspection sticker serial number on her hand, 001453526.
When she obtained a police report from the accident, she compared the numbers from the inspection stickers on the Jeep and on the taxi. "She found that the numbers were identical," the affidavit states. A few days later, on the evening of May 5, Mrs. O'Connor went to the Steamship Authority in Vineyard Haven and found a Patti's taxi to confirm her finding.
A second witness, Joseph Kelley, also observed the serial number on the taxi and corroborated Mrs. O'Connor's reading of the numbers. Mr. Kelley is employed as the director of field operations for the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV).
On May 27, Sergeant Maciel received information that over the Memorial Day weekend, Jeffrey Cimeno had constructed a stockade fence on the rear of his Oak Bluffs property to shield his taxis from view from the road.
Then on May 31, Sergeant Maciel checked into Registry records for Jeffrey Cimeno's personal vehicle, a 1994 Toyota Four Runner. It was registered on Oct. 8, 1999, but there was no record of the car ever being inspected until just May 16, "seven days after my interview with Jeffrey Cimeno's parents," Sergeant Maciel wrote.
"This officer observed the same vehicle behind Island Pizza in the Tisbury Market Place in Vineyard Haven on April 10, 2001. The vehicle displayed a current inspection sticker when RMV records show no inspection was done until May of 2001," according to Sergeant Maciel's affidavit.
Reached yesterday, Sergeant Maciel declined to answer any questions about the investigation, referring inquiries to the Cape and Islands district attorney's office. Assistant district attorney Richard Piazza could no be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, attorneys for the MacLean family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Robert and Patricia Cimeno on Friday in Norfolk County Superior Court in Dedham, holding them responsible for the death of Eric MacLean.