Inmate’s Maine excursion nears end

Published 12:07am Tuesday, October 2, 2012

WATERPROOF — A Tensas Parish inmate will soon complete his summer sojourn in Maine and return to be tried in Louisiana for escape and theft charges.

In July, Benjamin Gottke, 43, drove a stolen unmarked police car 1,800 miles from Waterproof, La., to Houlton, Maine, before being arrested.

Since being arrested, Gottke has contested his extradition back to Louisiana and remained in Maine waiting on a governor’s warrant to be issued.

On Friday, Gottke was arrested on that warrant issued by Maine Gov. Paul LePage — ending several months of paperwork and court proceedings.

“While many fugitives readily waive the extradition process, when a fugitive contests the extradition it requires the cooperation of many government agencies both here and in Louisiana,” Aroostock County Assistant District Attorney Kurt Kafferlin said. “By the time the process is complete, Mr. Gottke’s case will have gone across many desks.”

Gottke will now have seven days to file a petition contesting his extradition.

If he files the petition, Gottke must prove by clear and convincing evidence that he is not a fugitive out of Louisiana, which was certified by Gov. Bobby Jindal in the governor’s warrant.

After the seven days, or if he does not file a petition, Gottke may be removed from Maine.

Tensas Parish Sheriff Rickey Jones said Monday he was in the process of deciding how his office would handle getting Gottke back to Louisiana.

“Instead of tying up two of our deputies and the cost for all of that, we’re thinking about hiring a licensed transportation service to bring him back,” Jones said. “They bring him back for one fee and take care of everything.”

But regardless of how Gottke is brought back, Jones said it’s getting him back to be tried in a Louisiana court that’s most important.

“I think he thought this would kind of slip by the wayside, so he might have been surprised the other day,” Jones said. “I would feel bad to not do everything in my power to get him back.

“If he committed another crime after he was let go, I would feel pretty bad.”

If the governor’s warrant had not been issued Friday, a judge could have extended it 30 days to allow the process to continue or release Gottke.

Kafferlin said he was glad to see the matter finally coming to a peaceful end.

“I am very grateful for the work of all of those in the eight other government agencies, both here in Maine and in Louisiana, who have done their work in ensuring that Mr. Gottke is returned to the state of Louisiana,” Kafferlin said. “Everybody did their part, and we will end up with the proper result.”

Gottke was working as a trusty in the Tensas Parish Sheriff’s Office kitchen on July 12, when he managed to acquire keys to the police car and escaped from the jail.

In two days, Gottke managed to drive the police car to Houlton, Maine, until arriving at the Houlton port of entry at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, July 14.

Gottke was heading North on I-95 toward Canada, but turned around in a “no-man’s-land” between the two ports. Gottke then wound up in the lane coming back into the United States, and he was stalled after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers asked for identification.

After fleeing authorities at the entry port, U.S. Border Patrol agents located the vehicle an hour later abandoned at a local gas station.

Houlton Police Department officers found Gottke shortly after in a downtown street and had to Taze him twice before making an arrest.

Gottke is facing charges in Maine as a fugitive from justice and resisting arrest and charges in Louisiana of simple escape and theft of a vehicle.

Gottke was serving time for simple burglary and had approximately nine months left on his sentence.