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Prison Sweethearts Had a Boat Waiting Near Canadian Line

Times Staff Writer

On the day of their arrest, prison sweethearts Ronald McIntosh and Samantha Dorinda Lopez were apparently heading for a port near the Canadian border where McIntosh has a 49-foot ketch that he had bought for $108,000 in cash, authorities said Monday.

But even as McIntosh and Lopez prepared to flee Saturday, federal authorities in the Pacific Northwest and California strongly suspected that they were in the Sacramento area, based on their monitoring of an Oregon bank account held by McIntosh under an alias.

Earlier in the week, McIntosh had written a $4,600 check, drawn on that First Interstate account in Oregon City, to a jewelry store near Sacramento as a deposit to buy engraved wedding rings for himself and Lopez.

On Friday, the day before the arrest, U.S. marshals here obtained from the bank a copy of that canceled check to Merksamer Jewelers, after receiving a lead from U.S. marshals in Seattle. Armed with that information, deputy marshals arrived at the shop in Citrus Heights late Friday afternoon and kept a vigil there until the couple showed up on Saturday to pick up the items.

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Engraving of Rings

“The only thing that kept them in the area was the engraving of the wedding rings,” said U.S. Marshal Arthur Van Court of Sacramento.

Interviews with authorities here, in San Francisco and in Seattle on Monday suggest that the arrest of McIntosh and Lopez involved not only quick actions by federal marshals but an almost serendipitous series of events, including McIntosh’s boat purchase in May, 1985, and his continued use of an alias that was known to police.

McIntosh, a “model prisoner,” disappeared Oct. 28 after he was given a one-way bus ticket from the federal prison at Pleasanton and told to travel unsupervised to the minimum-security prison at Lompoc.

A twice-convicted swindler and a veteran Vietnam helicopter pilot, McIntosh commandeered a helicopter from a San Jose charter company, dropped off the pilot and returned to Pleasanton to pick up Lopez.

McIntosh, 42, and Lopez, 37, made brief appearances before a federal magistrate here Monday as new details emerged about the intense police pursuit of the pair, the way in which the couple spent their 10 days on the run and finally made mistakes that led to their arrest.

The couple will be back in court Thursday before being sent back to San Francisco to face charges stemming from the escape. McIntosh wore a jail-issued gray sweat shirt and blue jeans, and Lopez wore jeans and a purple sweater. Neither spoke during their separate appearances before U.S. Magistrate Esther Mix.

Now Faces 20 Years

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McIntosh, who had another 15 months to serve in federal prison stemming from fraud and parole violation convictions, now faces 20 years in prison if convicted of the new charges--air piracy, plus five more for escape. Lopez faces a charge of escape.

McIntosh was imprisoned after pleading no contest to charges that he bilked 2,500 investors out of $18 million through the now-defunct First International Trading Co., which he co-founded with a man he met while in prison in the early 1980s at Lompoc.

State and federal authorities, meanwhile, began efforts to seize the ketch and freeze as many as three bank accounts held by McIntosh.

It also was revealed that McIntosh has land and an unfinished home in Estacada, Ore., a small community between Portland and Mt. Hood. Officials hoped to return the money to customers who were bilked out of $18 million by investing in McIntosh’s precious metals firm.

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Assistant Dist. Atty. Jerry Coleman of San Francisco, who helped prosecute McIntosh, said the assets discovered in recent days add into the “six figures"--meaning that perhaps the bulk of the $1.7 million that remains unaccounted for in the investment swindle is still missing.

In an interview Monday, Chief Deputy Marshal Richard Bippus of San Francisco said the trail of Lopez and McIntosh remained cold for almost two days after the midday escape. Investigators had found the helicopter, abandoned 15 miles from the prison. But there were few clues left behind.

But late Thursday, the FBI was told that McIntosh was using the alias Lyle Thompson. He had rented a helicopter Saturday, Nov. 1, in Concord, to practice flying, and the flight instructor later recognized his photo from news accounts after the daring escape and called the FBI.

Marshals and FBI agents immediately sent out an alert on a nationwide law enforcement teletype that McIntosh might be using that name.

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Alias Recognized

In Seattle, meanwhile, authorities quickly recognized the alias as that of the man who in May, 1985, had paid $108,000 cash for a 49-foot ketch. The boat sellers had been so concerned about circumstances surrounding the sale that they contacted authorities.

“Lyle Thompson” apparently had instructed them not to deposit the amount in full; under federal law, banks must file reports with the Treasury Department about all deposits of more than $10,000 cash.

Initially, authorities were unable to find the ketch. “The boat dropped off the face of the Earth,” Chief Deputy Marshal Robert W. Christman of Seattle said.

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But when the name Lyle Thompson showed up on the teletype, authorities in Washington stepped up their efforts, and found the ketch at 1 a.m. Friday, moored at the port of Bellingham, near the Canadian border.

Accomplice Sought

According to port authorities, the boat was sailed from nearby Anacortes to Bellingham on Aug. 20--at a time when McIntosh was in prison at Pleasanton.

Authorities are now searching for whoever sailed it to Bellingham because that person evidently was acting on McIntosh’s instructions, sources involved in the case said.

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“From the marina, we found some canceled checks for moorage and repairs,” Christman said, adding that copies of canceled checks were sent to U.S. marshals in California.

“When we heard of more recent activity (on the bank account), it made it pretty easy. A couple of deputies went out Friday night,” Van Court of Sacramento said.

Moved Almost Nightly

Federal marshals here and elsewhere said Monday that McIntosh and Lopez spent most if not all of their time as fugitives in Sacramento area motels, moving almost nightly and ending up in a mundane commercial side of town noted for its fast-food restaurants and small shopping centers.

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The couple had been told by the Merksamer Jewelry store that the engraved rings would be ready Monday. But authorities speculate that they were becoming anxious and had hoped that the rings would be ready before that.

“They were just antsy because they knew everybody was looking for them,” Van Court said.

Authorities noted that even if the couple had escaped from California, they probably would have been apprehended in Washington.

“We felt that eventually they would show up at this boat and we would get them,” said David Stanton, chief deputy marshal in Sacramento.

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