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Former college professor is captured in Panama



Published: Tue, October 17, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



ASSOCIATED PRESS

HARRISBURG -- A retired university professor wanted in Ohio and three other states on child molestation charges was arrested in Panama and deported to Miami, where he is now in custody, federal authorities said.

Richard W. Gibbs, who taught in the journalism and communications department at Shippensburg University in central Pennsylvania until he retired abruptly in the spring, allegedly fled the United States on July 18. He was apprehended without incident Thursday at a bar in Bocas Del Toro, Panama, where he was working under the name Wesley Alonzo, U.S. Marshal Peter Elliott said in a statement issued Sunday.

"His alleged acts were unspeakable, and it was critical that we brought him to justice," said Elliott, based in Cleveland.

It was not immediately clear Monday whether Gibbs would be first extradited to Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina or California, the four states in which he faces child-sex charges.

Gibbs, 65, is charged in Cumberland County with 14 felony counts of sexual abuse of children for pornographic images police said they found on his computers at Shippensburg. He retired from the school on the same day his computers were searched.

He also is charged with 10 counts of gross sexual imposition in Geauga County, Ohio, for allegedly molesting a child while living there in the 1980s and with molesting a child in San Diego County, Calif., six years ago.

In North Carolina

At the time Gibbs fled, Pennsylvania authorities had been attempting to extradite him from North Carolina, where he was arrested in late June and freed on 25,000 bail. A Carteret County, N.C., judge issued an arrest warrant when Gibbs failed to appear at a July 31 extradition hearing and increased his bail to 1 million.

Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed said Monday he was relieved to hear of Gibbs' capture and stunned that his bail in North Carolina had not been set higher from the outset.

"Had bail been set at a level that would have recognized this man's likelihood of absconding, we never would have had to go through this," Freed said.

Federal authorities learned that Gibbs entered Managua, Nicaragua, on July 18, and made his way to Panama a few days later, said Irv Brandt, a senior inspector with the U.S. Marshals Service in Washington.

Gibbs' passport was later revoked, and he was arrested on immigration charges, Brandt said Monday.

A Cumberland County search warrant states that a victim told police in 2003 that Gibbs molested him while he was 10 to 15 years old at sites that included the bathroom outside Gibbs' college office.

The Ohio victim said the abuse occurred while he was roughly 11 to 13 years old. A third victim reported that Gibbs molested him in North Carolina and California, from about age 12 to 16.

Police said that in a January 2006 taped phone call with one of the victims, Gibbs admitted having sexual contact with all three boys.




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