April 15, 2008

Spokane fugtive caught in Colorado

Bill Morlin The Spokesman-Review

John Earl Petersen, a federal fugitive from Spokane, was arrested Sunday in a Boulder, Colo., motel by police who reported finding a blond wig and several books about changing identity.

Police also impounded a black 2008 Cadillac DTS, worth an estimated $45,000, reported stolen in Spokane after Petersen failed to make scheduled payments, authorities said Monday.

Petersen, a 56-year-old convicted bank swindler, has been a federal fugitive since he walked out of a U.S. District Court courtroom in Spokane on Dec. 11. He voluntarily showed up for a hearing that day but bolted out of the courthouse after seeing documents showing his supervised release would be revoked and he would be going back to jail.

A nationwide manhunt for Petersen was conducted by the U.S. Marshals Service.

Petersen was the mastermind behind the $11 million collapse of a bank in Kalispell, Mont., in the late 1990s. His prison sentence was substantially reduced after he agreed to testify against the former bank officers he had bribed to be part of the fraud and money-laundering conspiracy.

Petersen was living in Spokane and completing five years of supervised release, a type of probation, when he disappeared.

His arrest came after Boulder police got an anonymous phone call at 7:55 p.m. Saturday, telling them a man known as John Roegge, driving a stolen Cadillac with Washington plates, was staying at the University Inn, at 1632 Broadway, said police spokeswoman Sarah Huntley.

After confirming the car was reported stolen, two police officers went to the motel and were told by a desk clerk that a man named Earl Petersen was registered in room 112, Huntley said. A sergeant and two additional officers arrived as backup before police went to the room at 12:45 a.m. Sunday.

“They were about to knock on the door when a man matching Petersen’s description opened the door,” Huntley said. “The officers ordered him to the ground and asked if he was John Petersen. He confirmed he was.”

Officers later searched the motel room and found several books, including “How to Get Lost in America” and others about changing a person’s identity, Huntley said.

Police also searched Petersen’s Cadillac after it was impounded, Huntley said.

“The car was full of books, photographs and manila folders containing personal documents, including court documents, divorce papers and birth certificates,” she said.

“In the car, we also found a bag full of six dismantled cell phones and a bag containing a blond wig,” the spokeswoman said.

Petersen was scheduled to appear Monday before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Denver. He was expected to be ordered held without bond because he is a flight risk.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Rice said if Petersen waives his return to the Eastern District of Washington, he should be back in Spokane in about 10 days. After an initial appearance, a supervised release violation hearing for Petersen will be scheduled before Judge Fred Van Sickle.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email