Before you decide to hide out from federal criminal prosecution, you will probably find that investigators won't quickly forget about you. Months, years, or even decades later, the feds are not likely to let you move on, and may continue to pursue criminal prosecution long after any alleged crime was committed. One man recently found this out the hard way, when the FBI tracked him down on the Appalachian Trial, more than 5 years after he was first confronted about possible embezzlement.
James T. Hammes was the Lexington, Kentucky based controller for a division of G&J Pepsi-Cola bottlers. According to the FBI, from as early as 1998 Hammes was moving G&J funds into an unauthorized account, then quickly moving those deposits into his personal bank account. In February of 2009, company officials asked Hammes about missing funds in excess of $8.7 million. Hammes disappeared shortly thereafter, leaving behind his wife and daughter.
Since about that time, and over the past six years, a heavily-bearded hiker known as “Bismarck” became a regular character along the Appalachian Trail. Using his experience along the path that stretches from Maine to Georgia, Bismarck even provided updates on the trail to David Miller, who writes a guidebook on the trail. While hiding in plain sight, it turns out that Bismarck and Hammes were in fact the same person. It may have been a fellow hiker who recognized Hammes from a CNBC episode of “American Greed,” which led to his eventual arrest.
Hammes was arrested at a small bed-and-breakfast in Damascus, Virginia, where he had become a regular over the past 6 years. Susie Montgomery, the owner of the Montgomery Homestead Inn, called him one of her favorite guests, interesting to talk to, and with a pleasant personality. Hammes is now setting up camp in an Ohio county jail, awaiting trial in the U.S. District Court. Hammes has pleaded not guilty to charges of embezzlement of almost $9 million from his former employer.
Hammes is just one of the more recent cases of long-term fugitives who are eventually captured by federal officials. Whitey Bulger, who is now the subject of the movie “Black Mass” starring Johnny Depp, was on the lam for 16 years before he was finally arrested in 2011. The course of time did nothing to lighten the criminal charges against him. After his 2013 trial, he was convicted of 31 of 32 counts, including racketeering, money laundering, extortion, and firearms possession. He was sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment, plus 5 years.
The FBI and other federal agencies have a long memory when it comes to pursuing people suspected of federal crimes. Of the FBI's current Ten Most Wanted fugitives, eight are wanted for alleged crimes that took place more than ten years ago, including one man wanted for alleged crimes that took place in 1976. Instead of a life on the run, people accused of serious crimes may want to seek out legal counsel to advise them on how best to face federal criminal charges, and in some cases, have their charges reduced or dismissed entirely.