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5 Charged in the Capture of Fugitive

Bounty hunter and four others who caught convicted rapist Andrew Luster post bail but must remain in Mexico for a Monday hearing.

June 21, 2003|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico — Bounty hunter Duane Lee "Dog" Chapman and four associates were charged Friday with criminal association and illegal deprivation of liberty for their raucous street capture of fugitive rapist Andrew Luster here this week.

Chapman, 50, and his crew, who had been facing possible kidnapping charges, each posted $1,500 bail but were detained by immigration officials Friday evening.

The five must remain in Mexico for at least 72 hours, until a judge either orders the case to trial or throws out the charges.

A hearing is scheduled Monday. But Chapman's attorneys said they are confident the men would not have to go to trial.

Possible prison sentences range from one to four years for criminal association and one month to four years for depriving Luster of his liberty during the time they had him in their control.

Chapman and his group were clearly relieved to learn Friday that they could post bail.

Asked by reporters how that made him feel, Chapman, who calls himself "the world's greatest bounty hunter," sighed, looked up, and said, "If you weren't here, I'd be crying."

He then embraced his son, Leland Chapman, 25, also charged in the case, who said, "I just want to go home."

Hoping to snag a portion of Luster's forfeited $1-million bail, Chapman had hunted down the fugitive more than five months after he bolted from house arrest during a break in his Ventura County trial. Luster, 39, the great-grandson of cosmetics legend Max Factor, was convicted in absentia for drugging and raping three women.

Following up on a tip, Chapman and his crew traveled to Mexico this week to search for Luster. He had been staying in a $30-a-night motel next door to the Puerto Vallarta district attorney's office.

On Wednesday morning, the bounty hunters tackled Luster on a city street, doused him with pepper spray, loaded him into a van and sped away, according to witnesses. Responding to reports of a possible kidnapping, police later caught up with the men and arrested all of the participants

Luster was deported Thursday to California and taken to Wasco State Prison in Kern County to begin serving a 124-year sentence. But Chapman and his group remained jailed in Mexico. Their actions were denounced by U.S. authorities, who refused to help secure their release. Ventura County Sheriff Bob Brooks said he was certain that Chapman would not receive any portion of Luster's bail money.

On Friday morning, Chapman and the other men were transferred to a state prison outside Puerto Vallarta. A few hours later, in a judge's chambers, they were formally charged. The group included Duane Chapman's brother, Tim, 38, Boris Krutonog, 41, an actor and television producer, and cameraman Jeff Sells, 35.

The men, wearing jail uniforms that included beige shirts and shorts, stood behind bars in front of the judge in the tiny room packed with attorneys, reporters and television cameras.

Prosecutors went through the group's belongings, which included baseball hats, cash, sunglasses, an American flag lighter and a black badge resembling a police officer's. The badge contained Duane Chapman's name and the words "Fugitive Apprehension." Hortensia Rubio, the court clerk, informed the men of their rights, including the right to post bail -- set at $15,000 pesos, or about $1,500.

She then read the charges and asked a barrage of questions, including their professions. Duane Chapman and his son both responded, "actors."

When she told the men they would be allowed to post bail, Duane Chapman responded, "Thank you" and "muchas gracias."

Reached at her home in Hawaii, Beth Smith, Chapman's business partner and companion, said she was happy Chapman would be released.

"I'm not holding up too well," Smith said. "But I'm ecstatic. I've gone four days without sleeping."


Times staff writers Jenifer Ragland and Megan Garvey contributed to this report.

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