Mixed martial arts promoters Christo Piliafas and Scott DiPonio were shocked to learn that one of their fighters was a suspect in the holdup of a Michigan gun shop this week.
After all, it was only two weeks ago that they raised more than $1,000 to help the amateur heavyweight’s family pay for his funeral.
Charles Rowan, 25, didn’t die in a February car wreck while en route to his fifth bout, as his girlfriend, Rosalinda Martinez, claimed that night, according to DiPonio. The couple and a friend, Michael Bowman, were in a Gladwin courtroom on Friday to hear the charges against them: armed robbery and assault with intent to murder. Each requested a court-appointed attorney.
DiPonio, who owns the Diamond D fight team, said he realized they had been duped when he saw Rowan’s mug shot on television identifying him a person of interest in the Monday robbery of Guns and Stuff, about 100 miles southeast of Traverse City. The store’s owner, Richard Robinette, was severely beaten and remained in serious but stable condition Friday in a Flint hospital.
"I almost passed out. It was literally that bad. My girlfriend looked at me and immediately just started crying," he said. "I was in disbelief. … It took me literally an hour until I could actually focus and think again. It was just unbelievable."
Piliafas, who fights professionally as "The Mad Greek" in addition to running promotional company Caged Aggression, said he had just returned from a bout in Poland when an associate texted him a link to the mug shot.
"It made me sick to my stomach. I was furious. I was livid," he said. "It’s not so much about the money. It’s just how many people were involved in this scam. … The little bit that I knew (about) this kid, I never would have thought that he’d try to pull some Machiavelli crap like that."
DiPonio said Rowan approached him at a show a year-and-a-half ago and said he’d like to give MMA a shot. The results were mixed — the 200-plus-pound heavyweight recorded a 1-3 record as an amateur — but DiPonio said his work ethic and attitude were strong.
"He actually has my ‘Diamond D’ MMA logo on his arm. He’s even branded," DiPonio said. "It’s only for a few guys that I allow to do that. That’s a pretty big deal. That’s why (the hoax) is just so devastating."
Rowan’s fifth career fight was scheduled for February in Traverse City. That night, DiPonio said, Martinez called from Rowan’s phone number to tell him that her boyfriend had been involved in a fatal car wreck on the way to the event.
A distraught DiPonio and his girlfriend hopped in their car the next day and made the lengthy trek to Gladwin, where they were met by "young kids and grandparents crying."
"I thought for sure Charlie was dead. I mean, these people were hysterically crying," said DiPonio, who gave the family $150 for expenses on the spot.
Two weeks ago, Piliafas and DiPonio helped raise $1,350 in proceeds and donations through their benefit event, "Fight for Charlie."
A tearful Bowman showed up to collect the money.
"(He) came and looked me right in the eyes and took the cash and cried and came to my house and stayed the night," DiPonio said.
Rowan, Martinez and Bowman were arraigned Friday in Gladwin District Court. They are scheduled to appear in court again April 1, and remain in the county jail, having not posted bond.
According to Gladwin County Sheriff Michael Shea, Martinez called 911 after the robbery and told investigators that she, too, had been attacked. But he said her story didn’t hold up and she, Rowan and Bowman were arrested.
Rowan has past convictions for failing to register as a sex offender and the attempted delivery and manufacture of marijuana. The Michigan Department of Corrections considers him a probation absconder.
Meanwhile, Piliafas and DiPonio are planning to file a fraud claim against Rowan with the Grand Traverse County sheriff’s office.
"I want to press charges to the fullest extent," Piliafas said. "For them to do that, just makes me sick."
Looking back, Piliafas said that even though some initially questioned Rowan’s death, not much could be done about those concerns.
"I had people saying this was a little bit fishy. There was no obit. There was no funeral service. But in that situation, you want to be sensitive to the family," he said. "I didn’t know exactly how to handle it. I didn’t want to go off and say, ‘We’re not doing this. Something’s not right’ and then have the incident having really happened."