Joey Giancaspro says he should have known that someday his criminal past would come back to haunt him.
"I've got an extensive criminal record. I have an extensive drug record," he admits, shifting nervously in his chair at the Arlington Heights motel where his family is temporarily housed.
Giancaspro and his partner, April Hamilton, grabbed public attention and headlines last month when the couple was seen begging at the intersection of Arlington Heights Road and the Jane Addams Tollway with their 1-year-old son, Gavin, and 18-month-old pet Chihuahua, Chivo, in tow.
The April 19 Daily Herald article about the family's plight generated both an outpouring of generosity from readers and dozens of online comments casting doubts about the California couple's story, some questioning whether it was actually a scam.
One person helped the family pay for three nights of motel stay, while an Itasca businessman offered Giancaspro a job, and a Hawthorn Woods couple offered to share their home.
Giancaspro, who grew up in Niles, has said that he returned to the Northwest suburbs in March to care for his ailing 83-year-old grandmother, Rose Giancaspro, who lived in an assisted living facility in Hoffman Estates, but that the couple ran out of their savings and was struggling to find employment.
When told the Daily Herald was unable to reach his grandmother, Giancaspro said she underwent surgery after falling and breaking her hip and recently started hospice at Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village. A spokeswoman at Alexian Brothers Hospice Services said Monday the agency doesn't release information on who is receiving care.
Details of Giancaspro's criminal record, which the Daily Herald was alerted to through an anonymous tip and online comments, have since been verified through Freedom of Information Act requests to the Niles Police Department.
Since 1991, Giancaspro has been arrested on charges of various crimes and convicted on charges including possession of a stolen motor vehicle, misdemeanor possession of cannabis, possession of a controlled substance and burglary. Most recently, he pleaded guilty to retail theft in 2008 and received a two-year sentence.
Palatine resident Patt Heise, who recognized Giancaspro from his picture in the newspaper, said she remembers Giancaspro approaching her in June of 2010 in the parking lot of the Women In Need Growing Stronger store off Northwest Highway in Palatine.
He was polite and shared an identical story about returning from California to take care of his sick grandmother in a nursing home, and that the family was staying in a motel, Heise said.
"It just stuck with me and it didn't make any sense," Heise said. "If that family has been in legitimate crisis for two years, then somebody needs to step in and take care of him especially when there's a child involved. There's a lot of help here in the suburbs for people like that."
Giancaspro claims he has left his thieving past behind and has been clean since 2008.
"If I was still stealing, I wouldn't be standing out on the corner," said the 38-year-old man. "I've changed my life. It's not a ruse. It's not a scam."
April Hamilton, who initially called herself Giancaspro's wife, admitted the two were not legally married. Hamilton said while they may have omitted parts of their past, the couple is not lying about their current circumstances.
"That's stuff that happened four or five years ago, and this is what we're going through now," said the 29-year-old woman, tears welling up in her eyes.
Hamilton insisted they weren't asking for money, but rather preferred that people who want to help give them diapers, baby food and dog food.
Giancaspro said his criminal past may hinder his chances to finding employment.
Yet, that didn't matter to Jerry Szymczha, vice president and general manager of Continental Web Press in Itasca, who offered Giancaspro a job pending the results of a drug test and pre-employment physical.
"We do not do a criminal-background check," Szymczha said. "Unfortunately, he did not meet our requirements," he said, declining to specify which test led to the withdrawal of the offer.