Haitian native skips his sentencing Friday in insurance fraud case Convicted man apparently returned to his homeland

September 07, 1997|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Richard Charles may have done what immigration authorities wanted him to do -- he has apparently returned to his native Haiti. But he became a fugitive from U.S. justice in the process.

Charles, who was accused of being in this country illegally, did not show up at his sentencing hearing Friday for fraud and attempted theft. Instead, his attorney came to court with a letter he said was from Charles in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital.

"Mr. Charles will not be in court today," the attorney, Timothy G. Wolf, told Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. Nor, most likely, will Charles ever be, Wolf added. "He cannot return to the United States."

Wolf told the court his client returned to Haiti -- where he claims Charles is in danger for political reasons -- because his mother died.

Kane then issued a warrant for Charles' arrest.

In March, Charles was convicted of trying to bilk Sentry Insurance Co. of $431 with a fraudulent insurance claim. He was to be sentenced for that conviction Friday.

If he had stayed in this country, U.S. taxpayers may have had to pay the cost of jailing a man who immigration authorities say should not have been here at all.

U.S. immigration officials began deportation proceedings against Charles in November 1995. But before they moved to expel him, U.S. and local authorities wanted him prosecuted -- and, if convicted, punished -- on charges he faced here.

In August 1995, Charles was accused of fondling six Columbia-area women while posing as a professional photographer. He spent six months in the Howard County Detention Center awaiting his June 1996 trial, and in federal detention centers on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant -- at a cost of more than $13,000.

Howard County State's Attorney Marna McLendon estimated last year it would cost $3,600 to prosecute Charles on the fondling and insurance fraud charges. But, she said, the expense would be worth it for his accusers, who wanted to see him punished.

"A lot of people would be very unhappy if we just said, 'He's leaving the country.' Something should have happened to him here," McLendon said in May 1996.

On June 12, 1996, Charles was found guilty of a fourth-degree sex offense in the fondling case and sentenced to time already served.

Immigration authorities say they back the prosecution of criminal aliens because convictions make it harder -- though not impossible -- for them to return to this country if they are deported.

Also, they say, deportation lets them off too easily.

Charles faced a maximum of 15 years for the fraud and attempted theft charges the jury convicted him of in March. Assistant State's Attorney Bernard Taylor has said state guidelines called for Charles to receive up to four months in jail.

"He's going to try to come back," Wolf said Friday of his client, who was seeking political asylum in the United States. "He is in some jeopardy in Haiti. It is not a safe place for him."

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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