Witnesses say a St. Petersburg man with a 28-year history of criminal arrests is the one behind a downtown parking controversy that resulted in the towing of 14 cars near Tropicana Field on opening day of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball season.
"He talked about his knee surgery and how he needed to get off that crutch," said Maxine Roy, a Rays fan from Temple Terrace who is one of the motorists who paid more than $100 in towing fees to recover their cars after the game.
The man who accepted $20 apiece from the fans to park their cars, 65-year-old George Goewey, has dozens of arrests on his record, many of them for alcohol and drug offenses.
Goewey's criminal history includes two stints in state prison on drug offenses and numerous stays in the Pinellas County Jail, but that didn't stop the City of St. Petersburg from selling him a permit for special events parking three years ago. Back then, Goewey signed as a representative of the property tenant at that time at 1450 1st Ave. N.
Roy Wise is one of the fans who parked at the lot Friday and says he took a cell phone photo of Goewey because the man on crutches seemed a bit suspicious, even though the lot had signage indicating it was an approved parking area.
Tom Salveggi, who ran a scooter shop on the site until last October, said there's no question that Wise's photo is Goewey.
"He's definitely at the center of it," Salveggi said. "That totally fits his M.O. He used to be a former employee of that company before I took it over.''
Records show Goewey applied and paid for the city permit in May of 2009 when the city instituted a regulated system to put parking pirates out of business and end rampant towing of Rays fans. The city approved seven parking spaces, half as many as Goewey parked there Friday with the help of an unidentified woman.
Dennis Daggy, who works at nearby World Liquors said Goewey has worked the parking concession for years and saw him doing it again Friday on opening day for the Rays.
Daggy's own business also makes money as a designated special events parking lot. He fears the towing controversy will discourage out of town fans from coming to future games. "It's not good for the area and it's not good for baseball," Daggy said.
Goewey's most recent arrest last January for DUI, driving with his license suspended or revoked, disorderly intoxication and having an open container in a right of way resulted in his incarceration until last August when he was released for time served.
Avi Portnoy, who helps manage the property now for Affordable Properties, said someone named George called him a few weeks ago claiming to have a permit for the site and wanted his permission to park cars again during this season's Rays games.
"I told him not to do that," Portnoy said. "I didn't give permission for these people to be there."
Portnoy and his associate Michael Shimshoni say they didn't know their property was a city-designated parking area until the towing controversy erupted. Shimshoni took a hard line Friday afternoon when he found out the lot was full of cars on and said he called in A-I Recovery to remove the vehicles.
In the aftermath of the mass towing, St. Petersburg city staff members huddled Thursday morning to review the special events parking policy. They decided to send out letters to the 100 private lots to clarify if the permits are held by tenants or property owners and to determine if they still want to keep the permits in force.
In the future, the city will only sell special events parking permits to property owners.
Police are still investigating the incident.
Meanwhile, after Tampa Bay Rays spokesman Rick Vaughn learned details of the towing controversy from News Channel 8, he offered to give the fans free tickets to a future game to help restore some good will.
Vaughn said the fans should write to him directly at Tropicana Field, 1 Tropicana Drive, St. Petersburg, FL 33705 and include copies of their towing receipts or other proof they were towed.
St. Petersburg spokeswoman Beth Herendeen says the city also wants to do something to make up for the towing nightmare but hasn't determined the details.
Those gestures might take some of the sting out of what happened to fans like Roy Wise, who drove to the game from his home in Hillsborough County only to fork over a ransom to recover the car he had already paid to park in a city-approved lot.
"It's a shame that the City of St. Petersburg wouldn't do more to protect the people who were there to support the Rays," Wise said.
Maxine Roy said her concern is that no other Rays fans go through this again. "This very thing has happened year after year and still it continues," Roy said.