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One of O.C.'s 10 Most Wanted Was Already in the Bag

October 21, 2005|H.G. Reza | Times Staff Writer

When Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas unveiled Orange County's most-wanted list last week, he was unaware that one of the accused criminals -- a suspected child molester who had been on the run for eight years -- was already behind bars.

James Lawrence Diamond was arrested Sept. 30 by Nye County sheriff's deputies in Pahrump, Nev., about two weeks before Rackauckas asked for the public's help in finding him and nine others.

Diamond, who was working in Pahrump as a sprinkler repairman, had been wanted since 1997 by Orange police for allegedly molesting a 5-year-old girl.

Nye County Assistant Sheriff Bill Weldon said his department had almost immediate contact with the Orange County Sheriff's Department, which confirmed the warrant within 30 minutes of Diamond's apprehension. Diamond, 61, was arrested and waived extradition Oct. 7, agreeing to be returned to Orange County.

"There appears to have been a breakdown in communication out there in California," Weldon said. "Having a top-10 list of fugitives is a good idea. But it may be a good idea to check if any of the people on the list have been arrested before having a press conference."

On Oct. 11, Nye County authorities sent a teletype to the Orange County Sheriff's Department, saying Diamond had waived extradition and needed to be picked up.

It was only then that the Orange County Sheriff's Department finally alerted police in Orange to Diamond's arrest.

On the night of Oct. 11 "we received a fax copy from the Orange County sheriff of the teletype they received from Nye County," said Orange Police Capt. Steve Ames. "That's when we learned that Diamond had been arrested. Wednesday morning we were on the horn to Nevada coordinating arrangements to take him into custody."

It was unclear why Orange County sheriff's officials did not notify Orange police earlier. A sheriff's spokesman said officials were looking into the matter.

The day after Orange police arranged to pick up Diamond, Rackauckas unveiled the county's first most-wanted list and asked for the public's help in tracking down the suspects.

Susan Kang Schroeder, a spokeswoman for the district attorney, said Thursday that she erred in not checking to see whether any of the fugitives on the list had been recently arrested.

"It was my fault," Schroeder said. "I picked these people for the list three weeks ago. I didn't have them rechecked before we had the press conference to see if anybody had been arrested."

She said prosecutors finally learned about Diamond's arrest Wednesday from Orange police officials.

Rackauckas held another news conference Wednesday to announce that Diamond had been arrested Sept. 30. He said investigators had already been on Diamond's trail "a couple of months" ago and went to Pahrump looking for him but did not find him.

On Wednesday, Rackauckas said authorities were having trouble finding Diamond's alleged victim, who is now 13.

"We are actively attempting to locate the [victim's] family. We have information that the family is living in Southern California," he said in a written statement.

Authorities said that when he first became a suspect in 1997, Diamond showed up at the Orange Police Department for questioning and waited in the lobby. But he left before meeting with a detective. When police went to his house later, they discovered he had cleaned it out and fled.

Schroeder said the top-10 list remains "an effective tool to arrest these people."

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