LePage issues warrant to send fugitive in Aroostook back to Louisiana

Posted Oct. 01, 2012, at 6:28 p.m.

HOULTON, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage issued a warrant on Friday to expedite the process of sending back to Louisiana an escapee from a detention center there who was arrested in Houlton in July.

At the same time, state officials are waiting to see if Benjamin Gottke, 43, will file a petition contesting the extradition process.

Aroostook County Assistant District Attorney Kurt Kafferlin said in a statement on Saturday that Gottke was arrested on a governor’s warrant on Friday. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal had requested that LePage issue the warrant.

Gottke was taken into custody on July 14 after fleeing the Houlton Port of Entry earlier that day.

Gottke stole an unmarked police cruiser on July 12 after escaping from the Tensas Parish Detention Center in Waterproof, La.

He had been serving time for simple burglary and had about nine months left on his sentence when he stole the car and drove it 1,800 miles to Maine.

Gottke apparently became confused on July 14 while trying to navigate the border crossing at Houlton in a possible attempt to enter Canada, according to police.

Officials are unsure whether Gottke was heading in or out of this country when he arrived at 2:30 p.m. at the Houlton Port of Entry.

When he was asked for identification at the port of entry, Gottke sped off, and police found the unmarked cruiser abandoned at a Houlton restaurant. Gottke fled on foot, but was located and arrested on the corner of Park and High streets.

Gottke was charged in Maine as being a fugitive from justice and resisting arrest. He also was charged in Louisiana with simple escape and theft of a vehicle.

Gottke immediately pledged to fight extradition and requested a formal extradition hearing in Maine.

Louisiana authorities said they would petition LePage to return Gottke to that state.

He has been held at the Aroostook County Jail in Houlton since his arrest awaiting the issuance of the governor’s warrant.

Kafferlin said that since Gottke contested the extradition process, numerous government agencies in Maine and Louisiana had to take action. Besides action by the governors of both states, the extradition effort has required cooperation from the Houlton Police Department, the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department, the Aroostook County District Attorney’s Office, the Maine Attorney General’s Office, the Tensas Parish Sheriff’s Department, the Tensas Parish District Attorney’s Office, and the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office.

Now that he has been arrested on the governor’s warrant, Gottke has seven days to file a petition contesting his extradition, according to Kafferlin. If he fails to file the petition, the Tensas Parish Sheriff’s Department will have to send someone to Maine to get him.

If he chooses to fight extradition, Kafferlin said that Gottke would have to provide evidence showing that he is not a fugitive out of Louisiana, as has been certified by Jindal.

Kafferlin said that he is “very grateful” to the employees in the eight other government agencies in Maine and Louisiana who have done their part to bring about a proper end to the case.

“Mr. Gottke’s summer sojourn to Maine will be over soon, and he will be headed back to Louisiana to face prosecution there,” said Kafferlin.

In late July, the Houlton Town Council accepted the donation of the 2002 Ford Crown Victoria stolen by Gottke and used in his escape. The car, which has nearly 170,000 miles on it, was donated by the Tensas Parish Sheriff’s Office. Houlton councilors discussed plans to use the vehicle to replace a municipal car, currently being driven by Houlton’s code enforcement officer, which needs significant repairs.

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