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Criminal Charges Unlikely Against Pair Who Led Police on Wild Goose Chase

October 12, 1989

LANSING, Mich. (AP) _ State Police defended their $100,000 hunt for two inmates who left false clues suggesting they had escaped when they actually were hiding for a week inside the world’s largest walled prison.

″I’m not embarrassed in the least bit,″ said Detective Sgt. Jerry Boyer. ″We had information to believe these guys were outside and we followed up on it.″

Prosecuting Attorney Joseph Filip said Wednesday he will let prison authorities discipline convicted murderer David Bellah, 42, and robber Steven Mikko, 27, rather than filing any new charges.

The prisoners were found Tuesday hiding inside a stack of corrugated boxes in a furniture factory at the 57-acre State Prison of Southern Michigan.

A homemade grappling hook and 84 feet of rope fashioned from nylon laundry bags found with them led authorities to believe the two planned to escape over the 28-foot prison wall after the search for them died down.

Boyer said the two left phony clues suggesting they had disguised themselves as guards and escaped during a shift change on Oct. 4.

Negatives left in their cells indicated they had made false guard badges, and a note indicated they had bought guard uniforms for $250, he said.

Mikko also arranged to have a cousin call a probation officer to say she had been asked to pick up the two on the day of the reported escape.

″It certainly leads a reasonable person to believe they had escaped from prison,″ Boyer said, adding the size of the institution made it difficult to determine if they still were inside.

Boyer estimated State Police spent more than $100,000 searching for the men within Michigan. The search also extended to Indiana and Nevada, where Bellah and Mikko had friends and relatives.

Prison spokeswoman Marcia Bailey said prison officials also never stopped searching inside the prison.

″The evidence left in the cell was so obvious we had some doubts whether it was legitimate evidence or whether they were trying to distract us,″ said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gail Light.

Before the escape, the men were held at a level below maximum security and could leave their cells during the day. Depending on the outcome of disciplinary hearings, they could be placed under tigher security and lose privileges.

Filip said the county usually prosecutes inmates for new offenses only if aggravated circumstances are involved, such as injury to a prison employee or private citizen. A conviction for attempted escape would add only two to five years to their already long sentences, he said.

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