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Nothing on Luster Here, Mexico Says

Police in a resort town check whether the fugitive assaulted any women while he was on the lam, but so far there is no evidence that he did.

June 28, 2003|Daniel Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico — Authorities said Friday that they are investigating whether fugitive rapist Andrew Luster assaulted women during his months on the run in this beach resort town, though police said they are becoming increasingly doubtful that he did.

No one has come forward to report any misdeeds by the great-grandson of the cosmetics legend Max Factor, despite the extensive publicity about his capture last week.

"We expected that people would start calling as soon as his picture was published in all the papers, but we've received nothing," said a Puerto Vallarta police spokesman, Sebastian Zavala. "We're pretty sure he didn't commit any crimes here because of that."

Luster, 39, was dragged away from a taco stand by bounty hunters last week. The capture came five months after Luster bolted during his trial in Ventura County on charges of drugging and raping three women. He was convicted in absentia, and last Friday began serving a 124-year sentence at Wasco State Prison in Kern County after being deported from Mexico.

It was unclear how long Luster had lived in Puerto Vallarta. He spent portions of March and April in a coastal fishing village north of the city. Despite being a fugitive, Luster appears to have lived openly -- surfing, dining at upscale restaurants and bar-hopping into the morning hours.

Mexico's federal investigations bureau said on June 19 that it had no reason at the time to hold him on suspicion of any crime, which allowed Luster's release to the FBI.

"The investigation continues," Puerto Vallarta Dist. Atty. Marco Roberto Juarez said Friday. "It's an open case."

Law enforcement officials in nearby Nayarit state, where Luster stayed at a few villages, also said Friday that there have been no crime reports filed against him there.

U.S. authorities are looking into a 13-page spiral notebook reportedly found in Luster's Puerto Vallarta hotel room, saying it could contain key evidence in an investigation into who may have aided his escape.

The handwritten journal contained names of people from whom Luster expected to be sent money, Spanish translations for pickup lines and a so-called payback list that included three victims and the attorneys who prosecuted him, according to published accounts in the Ventura County Star.

Investigators are trying to determine whether anyone helped Luster plan and finance his escape during his Ventura County trial in January.

The bounty hunters who captured Luster remain in Puerto Vallarta, awaiting trial on charges of illegally detaining Luster.

Duane "Dog" Chapman, 50, his son Leland, 26, and brother Tim, 38, are free on bail but must remain in the city as their attorneys prepare for their trial.

Two men detained with them, actor-producer Boris Krutonog, 41, and cameraman Jeff Sells, 35, were released after a state judge ruled Thursday that they were media professionals and not bounty hunters.

"Yes, I feel we've done something here positive," Sells said, after leaving the state penitentiary Thursday. "A rapist got off the street. He's a predator."

Chapman had boasted to reporters since April that he would be the one to find Luster. He had tracked the fugitive last week with the help of an American couple living in Mexico.

He then tackled Luster in the early morning, drawing the attention of local authorities and resulting in the arrests of the five men.

A judge ruled Thursday that Chapman must stand trial, saying he hoped the case would dissuade other Americans from hunting fugitives in Mexico. While the charge carries a maximum potential penalty of four years in jail, it is unlikely that Chapman and the others will see the inside of another Mexican jail cell, as they did for four nights after their arrest.

In the Mexican system, defendants convicted of minor crimes, which include unlawful detainment, can opt out of jail time by paying hefty fines, prosecutors said.

Chapman's lawyer said the defendants would do that if convicted.

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