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Fugitive Molester Back in County

The 13-year saga of a Ventura man ends with his arrest in France and a 12-year prison term.

April 27, 2006|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

For nearly 13 years, law enforcement officials tried to bring convicted child molester Channa Pryia Ruberoe to justice.

Now, Ruberoe, convicted in Ventura in 1993 of three counts of lewd acts against his stepdaughter, is behind bars.

Ruberoe, a native of Sri Lanka, was spotted in at least four countries and arrested several times before he was returned to Southern California in February. His circuitous route through Europe and southern Asia and the dogged pursuit by investigators with the Ventura County district attorney's office and the local FBI office rival the plot of a spy novel.

Gary G. Auer, the district attorney's chief investigator, was the supervising agent in the Ventura FBI office in 1993 when Ruberoe fled. Auer called it "most unusual" for a sexual assault case to turn into a global manhunt.

"The investigation went very well," said Auer, who left the FBI in 1998. "We followed him all over the world, but actually getting him out of Sri Lanka, and later Paris, was quite an effort. It required a lot of cooperation by agencies in the Sri Lankan government, the U.S. government and later the French government."

Ruberoe, now 40, was convicted July 23, 1993, in Ventura County Superior Court on three counts of molesting a child under 14. He was married to Ventura resident Nikki Lynn Ruberoe, who had a 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son from a previous marriage. He sexually assaulted his stepdaughter in April 1992, according to court records.

After Ruberoe's conviction, his wife arranged for him to be released on a $75,000 bond and he did not show up for his sentencing. Authorities determined that Ruberoe fled to Spain four days after his scheduled sentencing date. Three months later, on Nov. 7, Ruberoe flew from Paris to Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, Nikki Ruberoe lost custody of her children to their father but rather than give them up, she took them to Paris the same week their stepfather fled there. Nikki Ruberoe reportedly had relatives in Paris.

Nikki Ruberoe kept the children in Paris until Nov. 16, 1993, when she sent them back to their father in Virginia. She joined her husband in Sri Lanka, where she was arrested and deported. She pleaded guilty to child abduction, conspiracy to jump bail and assisting her husband to flee the country. Because Nikki Ruberoe didn't have a criminal record, she was given probation and a six-month suspended sentence.

Superior Court Judge Don Coleman, who was a county prosecutor who oversaw child abuse cases at the time, said Wednesday he was surprised at how long it took to capture Channa Ruberoe.

"I guess it's true: You can run, but you can't hide," Coleman said. "The FBI and their international law enforcement contacts are the real heroes in this story."

Nearly two years after he fled the United States, Channa Ruberoe was arrested by Sri Lankan police on May 30, 1995, on the child abuse charges. He remained in custody until December 1996, when he was released on house arrest while he appealed his extradition. About 13 months later, that nation's Supreme Court upheld the extradition, but Ruberoe again missed his court appearance.

Sri Lankan officials began their own manhunt and learned Ruberoe had fled using a false identity and passport. He turned up in Bulgaria on June 28, 1999, and was seeking a visa to enter Russia.

He was next arrested in August 2004, this time by French police in Versailles, but he again appealed his extradition. Ruberoe exhausted his final appeal in February and French authorities alerted the U.S. Marshals Service, which sent agents to escort him back to Ventura County.

Last week, Ruberoe was given the maximum sentence of 12 years and must serve at least 85% of his sentence, minus the nearly three years he had already been incarcerated in Sri Lanka and France.

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