$250K Claimed by bondsman in Florida Fugitive’s Capture

September 15, 2009

A Westmoreland County judge must decide who should get a $250,000 forfeited bond for a suspected robber who was arrested in Florida in May after a four-year manhunt.

The high stakes turned up in the case of Ralph “Pretty Boy” Skundrich, 47, formerly of Valencia, Butler County, who fled Pennsylvania in 2005.

He cut off an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet and escaped house arrest while awaiting trial in Westmoreland County for the attempted robbery of a Greensburg grocery store executive in his Indiana County home.

In April 2005, Westmoreland County Judge John Blahovec forfeited Skundrich’s $250,000 bond and ordered Liberty Bail Bonds to turn over that cash.

The money has been held in an escrow account ever since, but the bail bonds company wants the money back. Skundrich’s family home has been seized by the company as collateral for the bond.

David Cercone, attorney for Liberty Bail Bonds, said the company’s extensive investigation led to Skundrich’s arrest in May.

In court yesterday, Liberty President George Lee said his company turned over to police the fruits of an investigation that involved hundreds of interviews with Skundrich’s family and friends, as well as cell phone records.

“We tracked him to Florida, but witnesses refused to speak to us,” Lee testified.

Skundrich had become romantically involved with a Florida woman, who subsequently liquidated her children’s college fund to pay for Skundrich to flee from police, Lee testified.

It was a tactic Skundrich had frequently used to pay for his flight from prosecution, according to Lee.

“Ralph was scamming a married woman before he left to provide money to flee,” Lee said.

U.S. Marshal Robert Holtz said the information provided by Lee’s company was “helpful in finding and apprehending Skundrich.”

But state officials said Liberty’s role was minimal.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Christopher Capozzi said the primary source of information used to capture Skundrich was a tip provided by the girlfriend he fled with five years ago.

Gina Brown, a Harrison, Allegheny County woman who left a young son behind to go with Skundrich, called in a tip to the television show “America’s Most Wanted” in late April, a year after the program featured Skundrich’s disappearance.

Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Thomas Cessar said Brown followed up her call to the television show two weeks later by another call to Crime Stoppers.

The latter call prompted police to surround Skundrich’s home he shared with Brown and make the arrest. Skundrich had been living in Pembroke Pines, Fla., near Pompano Beach, under the alias Bernard J. Stopera III and working as a locksmith.

“This man was arrested because his girlfriend was frightened,” Capozzi said.

Blahovec is expected to rule in about a week.

Original Posting from:

The Tribune Review by Rich Cholodofsky

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