Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Pettus-Brown done in by savvy date, Google

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LaShawn Pettus-Brown
After eluding authorities from coast to coast for more than a year, Cincinnati fugitive LaShawn Pettus-Brown finally made a mistake last week in New York City:

He went on a date with an inquisitive woman.

Pettus-Brown's life as a fugitive began to unravel when the woman decided to find out more about her prospective date by running his name through the Google Internet search engine.

A few mouse clicks later, she learned that Pettus-Brown was wanted for a lot more than dinner and a movie.

The Google search turned up an FBI warrant for Pettus-Brown's arrest in connection with the failed Empire Theater project in Over-the-Rhine. The woman, who has not been identified, contacted the FBI and told agents where he would be Friday night.

Pettus-Brown was arrested a little after 10 p.m. at an Applebee's restaurant on Long Island.

"He acknowledged right away he was LaShawn Pettus-Brown," said Jim Turgal, spokesman for the FBI in Cincinnati. "He did not resist."

He is being held without bond in New York and is expected to be returned to Cincinnati soon.

The end of his year on the run means authorities can proceed with their case against Pettus-Brown, who is charged with wire fraud. It also could be important to their ongoing investigation of what went wrong with the Empire Theater project.

The city lost more than $184,000 on the project after investing heavily in Pettus-Brown's failed plan to rehabilitate the 90-year-old theater on Vine Street. The FBI has said that nearly $93,000 of the money the city paid Pettus-Brown is missing.

Neither the FBI nor the U.S. Attorney's office would discuss how Pettus-Brown supported himself while on the run, or whether he used any of the missing city funds.

Some city officials have described his arrest Friday as a "sting operation," but FBI officials say that's not the case.

Instead, Turgal said, the agency received several tips via the Internet that indicated Pettus-Brown had recently moved from Los Angeles to New York. He said those tips ultimately led agents to the Applebee's.

Turgal would not comment on whether one of those tips was from the prospective date. But he said information obtained from a Google search assisted in the arrest.

Based on that information, Turgal said, FBI agents in New York set up surveillance of a train stop near the Applebee's in Long Island. He said agents followed Pettus-Brown to the restaurant and arrested him.

"We had surveillance there to see if the tip was good, and lo and behold, the tip was good," Turgal said.

He said he was unsure which name Pettus-Brown was using in New York because he had been known to use variations on his name, such as Shawn Brown.

A Google search Tuesday showed that the names "LaShawn Brown" and "LaShawn Pettus-Brown" both lead to information about his problems in Cincinnati, including his arrest warrant.

Internet search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, can turn up a variety of information about people and their interests. Using the Internet as a personal private detective is gaining in popularity in the dating world, as a way to background potential suitors, and to track down former classmates, relatives or genealogy information. The practice is becoming so commonplace that the word Google is being used a verb.

Robert Nardoza, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in New York, said Pettus-Brown waived extradition at a hearing Monday.

Although he is jailed without bond, he can ask for a bond when he returns to Cincinnati. "We hope to get him back within a week or two," said Fred Alverson, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Cincinnati.

Enquirer reporter Gregory Korte contributed to this report.


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