Baltimore Sheriff John W. Anderson said his office received "tens of tens of tens" of tips on the whereabouts of John M. Staubitz Jr., the former state health official who skipped town to avoid sentencing for skimming thousands of dollars in the State Games scandal.
But it was Staubitz himself who provided the information that led to his capture. After nearly a month on the lam, he booked a room at a Las Vegas hotel -- in his own name.
"We called to confirm his reservation as if we were him," Detective Sgt. George Cunningham, the city sheriff department's chief investigator on the case, said yesterday. Baltimore authorities then telephoned the Las Vegas police, who waited half an hour after check-in time Friday before knocking on the 44-year-old former deputy health secretary's hotel room door and arresting him.
"If he hadn't been arrested Friday," Sergeant Cunningham said, "he was scheduled to tee off Saturday morning at the Dunes Country Club." Staubitz had been a fugitive since July 27, when he failed to appear for sentencing in Baltimore Circuit Court. Prosecutors were seeking a two-year prison sentence and $30,000 in restitution.
As Staubitz sat in a Las Vegas jail cell yesterday facing extradition, authorities were left to ponder the thinking of a fugitive who flew first-class into Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Aug. 10 and reserved tee times at Las Vegas country clubs but apparently did not bother to assume an alias.
Was he once again showing what prosecutors have described as his arrogant side? Did he, deep down, want to be caught? Or was he simply dumb? "I can't say what's in his head," Sheriff Anderson said. More certain, boasted the sheriff, was the inevitability that Staubitz would be apprehended.
"We weren't going anyplace. That arrest warrant would have stayed here a hundred years," the sheriff said. "Sometimes we miss people 10 times. They can only afford to miss once. He slipped up and we got him."
In early July, state prosecutors filed a court document announcing their intention to seek a five-year prison term, with all but two years suspended, and $30,000 in restitution from Staubitz. The prosecutors said Staubitz's "arrogance knew no bounds."
"Greed led him to steal, arrogance led him to lie and cover up," stated the memorandum submitted by Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.
On May 27, Staubitz unexpectedly pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit misconduct in office. Explaining his decision, which came an hour before the scheduled start of a five-week trial, Staubitz said shots had been fired at his car -- which he interpreted as a death threat.
Baltimore County police, who investigated Staubitz's report of a shooting, said the damage to the car was consistent with his account, but they could not be certain that shots had been fired because no bullets were found.
Prosecutors said Staubitz lied to legislators deciding the future of the State Games program and billed the state for such personal expenses as vacations, country club fees and an Ocean City condominium.
Some of the money he used for personal expenses allegedly came from funds allocated for the State Games program, an arm of the health department established to promote amateur athletics.
After Staubitz failed to show up in court in late July, the task of finding him was left to local authorities. The FBI would not get involved because Staubitz was convicted of a misdemeanor and not a felony.
Sergeant Cunningham said Staubitz apparently left the Baltimore area the night before his sentencing, ditching his mother-in-law's car at a Catonsville diner and then driving with a friend to North Carolina, where he has relatives.
He then drove with a family member to Arizona, where he has more relatives, the investigator said.
Sheriff Anderson said charges would be placed against Staubitz's out-of-state relatives if they are found to have assisted him.
Staubitz flew into Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Aug. 10 on a ticket that cost $433 one way, but authorities received a tip too late to arrest him then, Sergeant Cunningham said.
Investigators followed a trail of hotel receipts and airline ticket purchases to the Rio, where Staubitz had stayed. The former health official also had stayed at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas.
Authorities were unable to say whether Staubitz gambled while onthe run. Prosecutors have said he gambled instead of working during a government-financed trip to Las Vegas in 1989 and used $2,000 in state drug-abuse-prevention funds to finance gambling during a 1990 trip to Miami.
During his weeks as a fugitive Staubitz used his credit card to charge purchases, his lawyer, Stuart R. Berger, said yesterday. Mr. Berger said he received this information from Staubitz's wife, who talked with her husband Saturday.
Mr. Berger said the wife had not been in touch with Staubitz since the day before his scheduled sentencing.
Staubitz could be returned to Baltimore within a few days if he chooses not fight extradition.
A warrant issued by Baltimore Circuit Judge Andre M. Davis orders Staubitz to be held without bond pending sentencing. Mr. Berger said he will advise Staubitz to waive extradition, adding: "I believe he should come back to Baltimore and bring this matter to a conclusion."