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Fugitive Rapist Is Captured in Mexico

Bounty hunters chase down Andrew Luster, who fled during a break in his trial in Ventura County.

June 19, 2003|Tracy Wilson, Richard Boudreaux and Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writers

PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico -- Fugitive rapist Andrew Luster was captured by bounty hunters early Wednesday in this seaside resort town and jailed with them after local police responded to what they believed was a kidnapping.

Luster, 39, the great-grandson of cosmetics magnate Max Factor, was taken into custody shortly after 5 a.m. along with several bounty hunters and a video cameraman, said Sebastian Zavala, a spokesman for the Puerto Vallarta police. The bounty hunters had tackled Luster as he was ordering tacos from a sidewalk stand, witnesses said.

For six months, state and federal authorities have pursued Luster, who broke off an electronic monitoring bracelet and fled during a break in his Ventura County trial in January. A jury convicted him shortly thereafter on 86 counts for drugging and raping three women. He was sentenced to 124 years in prison.

Bounty hunter Duane Lee Chapman, 50, started his own search five months ago in hopes of collecting a percentage of Luster's forfeited $1-million cash bail. Chapman, a wild-looking ex-con who goes by the nickname "Dog," had been tracking Luster in Mexico for a week after receiving a tip that the fugitive was hiding there.

Chapman apparently caught up with Luster about 4:30 a.m. Wednesday. Witnesses said a man they believe was Chapman grabbed Luster just as the fugitive was ordering tacos from a street vendor a short distance from the beach.

"These guys come along and begin threatening him with tear gas," said the vendor, Giovanni Balbueno Molina, 18. "He said nothing. They threw him on the ground. He resisted as they put him in handcuffs. I heard them click.... We were all watching."

One witness, Polo Robles, 21, who was eating nearby, said Luster was placed face down while Chapman disrobed him. Other witnesses said Luster was not stripped.

Three men were taping the incident, according to Robles and several other witnesses.

Zavala said Puerto Vallarta police were alerted to the incident when they received a report of a street fight. When officers arrived, witnesses recounted how Luster was subdued and then bundled into a van headed north.

Two police patrol cars gave chase, intercepting two vans near the Puerto Vallarta Airport. Zavala said officers found Luster inside one of the vehicles. The fugitive was sporting a goatee and identified himself to authorities as David Carrera. Zavala said Luster had his hands cuffed behind his back, but was in good condition.

In addition to Luster, police detained Chapman, his brother, Tim Chapman, 38, and son, Leland Chapman, 25, as well as his agent, Boris Krutonog, 41, and a cameraman, Jeff Sells, 35.

Marco Antonio Inda, a spokesman for the Mexican attorney general's office in Puerto Vallarta, said Luster is being held while his immigration status is determined. If he is in Mexico illegally, he will be deported to the United States. Otherwise, he will be returned on an extradition order. Inda said authorities had 48 hours to determine Luster's status.

Late Wednesday, a government spokesman said Luster had been transferred to Mexico City.

James Dickmeyer, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, said the FBI office in the capital was working with Mexican authorities "to try to get this guy returned to face justice in the United States."

The status of the other detainees was not clear. Mexican authorities said they were looking into whether the bounty hunters had broken any laws.

Beth Smith, Duane Lee Chapman's business partner, said in an interview from her home in Hawaii that Chapman called early Wednesday to tell her that his team had grabbed Luster. Smith said Chapman was carrying Mace but no other weapons.

"He called me and said, 'I've got him. Call the feds right now,' " Smith said. "I think they were out on the street. I could hear this scuffling and people talking. It was a very chaotic scene."

Smith said she contacted the FBI office in Ventura.

Chapman had been tailing Luster after a tipster contacted him and reported that he had met a man who looked like the fugitive at a resort town in Mexico. "He had been fishing and surfing and partying, and Puerto Vallarta [is] full of young girls right now and he was basically having a heyday," Smith said.

The tipster sent a photo of Luster to Chapman, who immediately got on a plane to Mexico, she said.

Once there, Chapman had the informant contact Luster and attempt to set up a meeting where he could capture the convicted rapist, Smith said. After four canceled meetings, she said, Chapman and his crew moved in when they spotted Luster early Wednesday at a hotel.

Smith said she later received a call from one of Luster's victims, who has been in contact with the bounty hunter.

"She was sobbing," Smith said. "She just said, 'Thank you so much.' "

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