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Con King Caught in Florida

April 9, 1998

MIAMI (AP) _ He’s impersonated a judge, posed as a lawyer and passed himself off as a doctor to scam his way out of custody _ and Florida law officers weren’t about to let the Texas con man talk his way out of going back to the slammer.

Steven Jay Russell’s luck _ and his 14 aliases _ ran out Tuesday evening. State police got a tip he was hiding out at an apartment complex in the bedroom community of Sunrise and nabbed him in the parking lot as he walked to his car.

He tried to talk his way out of trouble, denying that he was one of Texas’ foremost fugitives, the man known dubbed ``King Con″ by reporters and ``Houdini″ by prison officials.

But agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement had been forewarned of the Houston man’s manipulative powers. And there was no smooth-talking getaway this time.

``We told them in Florida if he comes out of the apartment and says he is Bill Clinton don’t believe him, even though you may want to,″ said Glen Castleberry, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

``He has a diabolically creative mind,″ Castleberry said Wednesday.

Russell, who has been on the lam since March 13, was charged on a fugitive warrant for parole violation from Texas, where he was serving a 45-year jail sentence for stealing $800,000 from a Houston business that managed doctors’ finances. Extradition was pending.

He also was charged with obtaining a fake Florida driver’s license.

Renowned as a master escape artist and con man, the 40-year-old Russell has a sharp mind and wry humor. He also has a track record of Texas prison escapes, all of them on Friday the 13th.

``He has certainly done some unusual things, passing himself off as a physician, a judge, a handy man and most recently a terminally ill prisoner,″ said Paige Patterson of the Florida law enforcement agency.

Following leads honed by Texas investigators, Russell was tracked to Sunrise, north of Miami.

Maybe he felt at home there: authorities believe he may have been a Boca Raton, Fla., police officer in 1980 and 1981. That city’s police department referred calls to the personnel department at City Hall, which was closed Wednesday night.

Russell twice helped himself to freedom from a Texas lockup. In 1992, he walked out of Harris County jail wearing street clothes. Four years later, he called the district clerk’s office and impersonated a judge, ordering his own bond reduced from $900,000 to $45,000, and got out again. He was caught 10 days later.

On Dec. 13, 1996, Russell fashioned his own doctor’s scrubs by dyeing a white inmate’s uniform with green ink, then he walked away from a prison in Huntsville, Texas. He was recaptured 10 days later in Mississippi.

He began orchestrating his latest escape Feb. 24, convincing prison doctors he was dying of AIDS and getting a ``special needs″ parole to a nursing home. Then he had someone call there March 13 _ posing as a doctor _ and authorize treatment at a Houston hospital.

``Once there, he was totally scot free,″ Castleberry said.

Rather than leave Texas, Russell was able to get his lover, Phillip Morris, transferred to the Dallas County jail on a fraudulent bench warrant.

``You’re not going to believe this, but he actually visited him several times purporting to be his lawyer,″ Castleberry said.

A week later, Russell was posing as a Virginia millionaire: He tried to obtain a $75,000 loan from NationsBank in Dallas on March 20.

Bank officials became suspicious and contacted authorities, so Russell feigned a heart attack and was rushed to a hospital. He’s thought to have made a phone call from the premises, impersonating an FBI agent and saying Russell was no longer a wanted man.

Castleberry said a cell is waiting for ``King Con″ _ and that he will be watched especially closely when the next Friday the 13th comes along in November.

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