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'Mook' arrested at last, police say

Friday, November 02, 2001

By Timothy McNulty, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Pittsburgh police have finally arrested a man they believe is the daredevil graffiti writer Mook who for three years has taunted city officials by painting his name on bridges and underpasses.

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Police arrested Michael J. Monack, 18, on Halloween night outside the house where he lives with his grandmother on 15th Street on the South Side.

The arrest ended months of cat-and-mouse games between Mook and city officials, in which the graffiti writer scaled heights, such as a tower on the 10th Street Bridge, to paint "Mook" where it was difficult for public works crews to clean it off.

He often left teasing messages for the "Graffiti Busters" crews and last month took the taunts to another level when he etched his tag name with acid into the window of a Graffiti Busters truck. The prank infuriated city officials and spurred an investigation by police from the South Side station.

On Oct. 16, after getting a search warrant, police searched Monack's room in the South Side home owned by his grandmother, Betty Schemonitz. Inside were bags of spray paint cans, newspaper articles about Mook, a Mook hat and a glass aquarium with Mook etched in the glass.

Apparently none of those items were enough to arrest Monack on criminal mischief charges for graffiti-writing. But three railroad "no trespassing" signs, from Conrail and Union Pacific, were also in the room, and police judged them to be stolen property.

A criminal complaint said Monack was supposed to turn himself in on the stolen property charges Oct. 19 but fled the area instead. Late Tuesday, police caught him in a car outside his grandmother's house, charged him with three counts of receiving stolen property and took him to Allegheny County Jail.

City Magistrate Dan Butler set his bail at $1,575. A hearing on the charges was set for the morning of Nov. 8.

At his arraignment yesterday, Monack said little and hunched over with his hands plunged into a black hooded sweatshirt. Asked by reporters how to pronounce his tag name, Monack first joked that they should refer to him merely as "the accused."

He then said "Mook" is pronounced with a long "oo," as in the word "tool."

Public Works Director Guy Costa said yesterday he hoped Monack would receive a stiff sentence, to send a message to other would-be graffiti writers.

"He's been a real nuisance to us for a lot of years and cost us a lot of money," Costa said. "We're not going to tolerate this."

Costa said some 75 Mook tags have been cleaned by city crews, at a cost of $15,000.

Deputy Mayor Sal Sirabella said police are also poised to crack down on "VK" and "Jane," two other graffiti writers who have tagged city properties.

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