Prosecutors Open Dele Murder Probe
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PAPEETE, Tahiti (AP) _ Public prosecutors in Tahiti opened a murder investigation Monday into the disappearance of former NBA player Bison Dele and two of his companions.
Deputy prosecutor Lionel Bounan said Investigating Judge Jean-Bernard Taliercio was given charge of the case, but Bounan couldn’t confirm whether a full FBI team of 13 experts had arrived in Tahiti, or when a search of Dele’s abandoned boat would begin.
The 55-foot boat, the Hakuna Matata, was found docked in the east coast Tahitian port of Taravao last Thursday, a day before the FBI issued an arrest warrant for Dele’s brother. The boat’s name had been removed and was registered under a new name, Aria Bella.
Investigators are looking for former NBA player Bison Dele, formerly known as Brian Williams, and Serena Karlan, who were last seen July 8. Also missing is Bertrand Saldo, the captain of Dele’s catamaran. The 33-year-old Dele, Karlan and Saldo were planning to sail from the South Pacific island to Honolulu, Hawaii.
Earlier, police officials said French authorities agreed to delay a full search of the boat until the arrival of the FBI team, expected sometime Monday. A cursory search by French authorities found no blood stains or other signs of foul play.
The group set out on May 2 from Auckland, New Zealand, with Dele’s older brother, Miles Dabord, accompanying them, said police officials in Tahiti, which is French territory.
Once in Tahiti, Dele and his girlfriend apparently spent most of their time on the island of Moorea, about 10 miles from Tahiti.
The director of a hotel on the island, the Sofitel La Ora, said the couple checked in shortly after June 16, the newspaper Les Nouvelles de Tahiti reported Monday.
The paper quoted witnesses as saying they saw the couple in the area for nearly three weeks, with Dele’s boat coming and going from the tiny island.
Dabord is being sought on an unlawful flight warrant issued by the FBI bureau in Phoenix, where he is suspected of trying to steal his brother’s identity.
Dabord, also known as Kevin Williams, was detained in Phoenix on Sept. 5 after he allegedly signed receipts using Dele’s former name. Authorities said Dabord had tried to buy $152,000 in gold bullion from a coin dealer and showed Dele’s passport as identification. Dabord was taken into custody but later released.
Dele spent eight seasons in the NBA with Orlando, Denver, the Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago and Detroit. The burly 6-foot-11, 260-pound player was a strong rebounder, and the Chicago Bulls picked him up late in the 1996-97 season before winning the fifth of six titles.
Williams also had an unusual background. His father was a member of the pop group the Platters. In 1998, he changed his name to Bison Dele, to honor his American Indian ancestry.
In 1999, after two seasons with the Pistons, Dele abruptly retired, citing a lack of desire to play. He would have made more than $36 million if he’d played the final five years of his contract.
Dele nearly quit in 1993, when he was with the Magic. He had suffered from depression and received counseling and medication before making a comeback. He averaged 16.2 points and 8.9 rebounds a game with Detroit in 1997-98.