Whereabouts of Hotham still a mystery

Posted June 24, 2011, at 6:14 p.m.

I know that a missing accountant from Bangor isn’t nearly as interesting a story as the tale of Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger and his capture this week in California, but all the talk about Bulger’s years on the run got me thinking.

Just where the heck is Rod Hotham?

Though not nearly as colorful a character and not nearly as dangerous as Bulger is alleged to be, Hotham is certainly Bangor’s most notorious fugitive.

You rarely hear anything about him anymore, though prior to his disappearance in 1992, he and his wife were well-known in the city’s social and civic circles. He was a well-respected accountant and family man.

He vanished Sept. 16, 1992, just hours before he was to meet with the state attorney general to present what he said was evidence of white-collar crime that allegedly involved politicians and prominent members of the state’s business community.

But Hotham himself was under investigation in 1992 and accused and later indicted federally on nine counts of money laundering and eight counts of bank fraud.

By the time he was indicted in November 1992, Hotham had been missing for two months.

That was nearly 19 years ago.

Today he would be 66 years old.

Hotham’s family is convinced he was killed by the people whom he was about to inform the attorney general about.

Supposedly Hotham had boxes of evidence against some important people in this state and he had been sleeping in his clothes with a gun by his side out of fear for his life. His wife, Lisa, and the couple’s children supposedly had to go into hiding for a time because their family home was broken into several times.

Federal investigators and prosecutors have said through the years that they have no doubt that Hotham was and is on the run and in hiding.

One source I spoke to recently indicated that government agents had at least once come quite close to capturing Hotham in the southern part of the United States.

“From what I heard, they were only like an hour or a few hours behind him,” the source said.

This week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim McCarthy wouldn’t confirm that information, but he said Hotham’s case was very active.

For a time, Hotham was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List — far behind Bulger, of course — but a recent check of the FBI’s website didn’t turn up his name.

McCarthy said Hotham was now on the U.S. Marshal’s fugitive list and the actual case against him had been turned over to the now defunct Bank Fraud Task Force, which was formed during the savings and loan scandal.

When I called him on Friday, McCarthy referred me to an assistant U.S. attorney in New Hampshire, who used to be on that task force and was familiar with the Hotham case.

He didn’t return my call on Friday.

Though it was in no way as interesting as the Bulger case and the story of Boston’s Irish mob, the investigation into Hotham and his disappearance led me into a couple of back alleys and dark parking lots while I was covering the story.

At one of those late night meetings I was warned that my house might be bugged and that it might be in my best interest to have some form of protection.

It was all very conspiratorial and bordering on dangerous and, quite frankly, any decent reporter’s dream story.

Nothing ever happened.

We once sent another reporter to Vermont for an entire week because of a tip that Hotham was hiding out there and was about to be arrested by federal agents. That poor reporter sat in a dingy motel room for a week itching for something to happen. It never did.

I once got called in the middle of the night after someone called the newsroom to report that they were certain they just saw Hotham pull out of the post office parking lot on Harlow Street.

I spent all night tracking license plate numbers and names and finally found the uncle of some poor guy who had just moved to Bangor and apparently resembled Rod Hotham, i.e., dark hair and glasses. He gave me his nephew’s Bangor phone number, which I called at about 1 a.m. The poor guy had no idea who Rod Hotham was, but confirmed he owned the car in question and that he had been at the post office earlier. He actually was a pretty good sport.

It was a lot of time spent and there was no story, but the man’s uncle did offer me a place in his new company’s pyramid get-rich-quick sort of business.

Prosecutors have long said that Hotham would probably have only been looking at about three years in prison if he had been convicted of the crimes he was charged with, and noted that the episode would be well behind him if he had stayed and gone to court.

Some have questioned whether the federal case against him would even be viable anymore since the alleged crimes occurred two decades ago.

On Friday, McCarthy said such cases were reviewed each year and that the case against Hotham was still good for prosecution.

But Hotham has been a federal fugitive for 19 years. While hundreds of others across the country have been caught, the whereabouts of Bangor’s bespectacled CPA remains a mystery.

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