Jorge Montiel fled to his hometown near Pachuca, Mexico, after he was alleged to have raped and murdered a Georgia housewife in October 2010.
Federal agents tried to bring the international fugitive to justice, but something stood in the way: the cost.
FBI spokesman Stephen Emmett told the Tribune.
And with that, Montiel became just another of the thousands of criminal suspects now living with impunity in foreign countries — even when federal authorities have identified their precise locations.
After the Tribune recently exposed law enforcement failures that allowed more than 100 dangerous suspects to flee northern Illinois and remain free abroad, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder dispatched his top deputy to meet with officials in Chicago. Holder vowed that the Justice Department would redouble its efforts to return alleged murderers, rapists and other violent fugitives to Illinois — and secured the pledge of his Mexican counterpart to make it happen.
But the flawed enforcement efforts are by no means unique to the Chicago area, according to a Tribune examination of new data from the government's lead fugitive-hunting agency, the U.S. Marshals Service, as well as hundreds of open federal warrants from across the country.
Using that information and a set of reports the Justice Department issued back in 2003, the Tribune was able to cobble together the only public accounting of a fugitive apprehension program that government officials cloak in secrecy.
As global travel becomes easier and criminals get more adroit at creating false identities and slipping back and forth across America's porous borders, federal and local law enforcement officials call these international fugitives a growing threat to public safety. But in cases from throughout the country, the Tribune found breakdowns throughout the criminal justice system.
Local prosecutors facing budget constraints often won't allocate the manpower and resources needed to request extradition through the U.S. Justice Department, records and interviews show.
The Justice Department has been criticized for failing to manage its growing caseload. Even when a fugitive is located abroad, U.S. officials may delay pressing a foreign government to turn him or her over because of competing diplomatic or political priorities.
And foreign allies that receive millions of dollars in U.S. government aid, such as Mexico and the Philippines, often balk at giving up their own citizens — frustrating American authorities who often work tirelessly to locate the fugitives.
In the end, only a fraction of the suspects believed to have crossed America's borders are brought back to stand trial. For the others, each passing year diminishes the odds they'll face justice, as witnesses disappear and new cases take priority, the Tribune's investigation found.
Like many fugitives, Montiel simply returned to his hometown and picked up his life, doing little to conceal his identity or whereabouts. A friend of the victim's family spotted him near Pachuca several months ago and even learned the exact address where Montiel was staying with his family, government records and interviews show.
"The guy told me he was living openly, as if nothing happened," said the slaying victim's husband, Jesus Murillo-Bravo, who immediately gave the address to police in Cumming, Ga.
But unbeknownst to Murillo-Bravo, American officials never asked the Mexican government to arrest the wanted fugitive, according to the FBI.
Prosecutors in Forsyth County, northeast of Atlanta, declined repeated requests for comment. Today, Montiel has little to fear from authorities, while Murillo-Bravo, who recently lost his job as a landscaper, is relying on his in-laws to help him raise his two teenage children.
"It is very sad, very sad to lose a wife in this way," he said. "I am just waiting for the time when I get the news that they have captured this guy."
The stalled hunt for Montiel is one example of how authorities in many other parts of the country do no better than northern Illinois at arresting and extraditing suspects who sought haven in foreign countries.
After months of Freedom of Information requests and queries, the Tribune obtained for the first time new data on nearly 10,000 international fugitive leads opened by the U.S. Marshals Service. The crimes ranged from murder and sexual assault to narcotics and white-collar offenses.
Failure to bring border-crossing fugitives to justice a national problem
Tribune analysis shows extradition failures reach far beyond northern Illinois
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
The Baltimore Sun encourages civil dialogue related to our stories; you must register and log-in to our site in order to participate. We reserve the right to remove any user and to delete comments that violate our Terms of Service. By commenting, you agree to these terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.