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Fugitive New Jersey Prosecutor Commits Suicide as Marshals Close In

November 26, 1996

LAUGHLIN, Nev. (AP) _ A former New Jersey prosecutor on the run from a possible 10-year prison sentence shot himself to death today in a casino hotel room as U.S. marshals tried to persuade him to surrender.

Nicholas Bissell, who was convicted of skimming $146,000 from his business to finance of life of gambling and luxury, put a gun into his mouth and fired as an officer entered his room at the Colorado Belle hotel, said Dr. Donald Nelson, medical examiner in Mohave County, Ariz.

After tracking Bissell to the hotel, four marshals’ deputies and two police officers knocked on Bissell’s door and then kicked it in, said Jim Umbach, deputy U.S. Marshal in Phoenix.

Bissell pointed a gun at his head, but lowered it as marshals tried to negotiate with him, Umbach said. At one point, Bissell allowed a deputy to approach him to talk.

``They said, `We’ll take you in. There doesn’t need to be any problems,‴ according to Umbach. ``They talked to him about his family and friends and people who care about him. ...

``Finally after about 10 minutes, he put the gun in his mouth and fired,″ Umbach said.

The 49-year-old fugitive prosecutor, who had been missing since Nov. 18, was pronounced dead at a hospital in Bullhead City, Ariz., across the state line from Laughlin, Nelson said.

Bissell, who had been held under house arrest with an electronic bracelet, fled just two days before his scheduled sentencing on corruption, tax fraud, perjury and other charges. Prosecutors had planned to ask for a 10-year sentence.

Bissell had forfeited his $300,000 bond, including his mother’s home, when he cut off his electronic bracelet and fled. An envelope containing a suicide note addressed to his attorney, Donald R. Belsole, was found with the cut bracelet on a kitchen counter. Belsole requested the details not be made public.

Authorities were not sure how much money Bissell had with him when he fled. In May, Bissell had collected $47,000 from his pension account just days before he was convicted. Last summer, his wife and co-defendant, Barbara, discovered her husband was selling china, crystal and pieces of furniture from their home. Her lawyer said Bissell told his wife that he was disposing of possessions because they were going to prison.

Bissell served 13 years as the prosecutor in fast-growing, affluent Somerset County in central New Jersey. He was indicted in September 1995 and fired the next day.

He refused a plea bargain and was convicted in May on all 30 counts of mail and tax fraud, perjury, obstruction of justice, abuse of power and conspiracy. His wife was convicted of 13 charges.

Prosecutors said Bissell and his wife skimmed about $146,000 from a gasoline station business from 1991-94 without knowledge of their partners.

Much of the money was spent on a home, luxury cars, private schools for their two teen-age daughters, and the roulette wheels of Atlantic City, authorities said.

The abuse of power charges against Bissell alleged he improperly hid his interest in two gasoline stations and had a business relationship with an attorney for criminal defendants in the county.

On the witness stand, Bissell repeatedly denied the accusations, disputing much of the testimony from two dozen prosecution witnesses, including his former wife, a former law partner, his accountant, top aides, and the former manager of his gas station.

Several witnesses also said Bissell threatened to plant cocaine in a gasoline supplier’s car, and attempted to cheat the supplier by seeking a higher rebate than he was due.

U.S. District Judge Alfred J. Lechner Jr. initially denied bail following Bissell’s conviction, saying he did not trust the former prosecutor.

However, Bissell was freed to await sentencing under house arrest on $300,000 bond after a psychiatric evaluation suggested he was not a threat to himself or others and would not flee.

Laughlin, population 8,000, is a gambling resort town with 10 hotel-casinos and 11,000 rooms.

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