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Cardwell fled with stolen passport

When Paul Cardwell was caught in Thailand two months ago, one lingering question was how the former Powell Valley Healthcare CEO and fraud suspect made it overseas without his passport.

In a late Monday court filing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Leschuck said Cardwell apparently fled using a family member’s passport. The prosecutor said it also appears Cardwell left the U.S. in July 2012 — more than a month before law enforcement realized he’d gone missing.

“Defendant Cardwell told authorities after his arrest in Thailand that he decided to ‘run’ because he wasn’t ready to sign a plea agreement for what he believed would be a 24-42 month prison sentence,” Leschuck wrote.

Cardwell faces 15 felony charges in Wyoming’s U.S. District Court alleging he and an accomplice defrauded Powell Valley Healthcare out of nearly $848,000 in 2011. Another felony count in Indiana’s Northern District alleges they took a similar amount from a Monticello, Ind., hospital between 2003 and 2009.

Cardwell had been the CEO of the health care organizations at the times in question and allegedly pretended the money was being used to recruit staff.

Cardwell pleaded not guilty to the Wyoming fraud charges in March 2012, but dropped off the map while  free on an unsecured $50,000 bond set by U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl.

Cardwell was at large for nine months before being apprehended in Hua Hin, Thailand, on June 7. The U.S. Marshals Service recently brought Cardwell back to Wyoming, and on Monday, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Nancy D. Freudenthal of Cheyenne ordered Cardwell be kept in federal custody pending further proceedings.

When released on bond last year, Cardwell had been required to surrender his passport to court officials. Authorities say the 47-year-old illegally tried to get a new passport under his birth name, Paul Sappington, on June 25, 2012, but was turned down.

“The application was determined to be ‘fraudulent,’ however, the U.S. Passport Office did not notify investigators involved in this matter until September 2012,” Leschuck wrote in Monday’s filing.

Leschuck said it now appears Cardwell used a passport belonging to his brother-in-law to catch a July 22 flight from Chicago to Hong Kong. Cardwell told investigators he stole it.

Wyoming U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman John Powell told the Tribune that prosecutors do not know how Cardwell would have made it past airport security and onto an international flight with a passport that wasn’t his.

“We haven’t looked into it. I would hope that the TSA folks would, and the (Department of Homeland Security) folks, but that’s not something we’ve looked at,” Powell said Wednesday.

Cardwell apparently managed to keep his attorneys and law enforcement in the dark about his whereabouts for a month after his flight, as he continued to communicate by phone and email about taking a plea deal.

But in the days leading up to a planned change of plea hearing, Cardwell’s attorneys had a hard time getting in touch with their client. At one point, Cardwell claimed he’d been taken to an emergency room in Tipton, Ind., and might need surgery, Leschuck said.

One of Cardwell’s attorneys, Robert York of Indianapolis, ultimately sent a paralegal and investigator to Cardwell’s mother’s house on Aug. 28; her Tipton residence is where Cardwell had been ordered to stay while the case was pending.

However, Barbara Cardwell told York that her son “had been gone since Aug. 25, 2012 and that she did not know where he was, nor did she know how to contact him except to send him an email and hope that he responded,” York wrote in a filing last year.

Leschuck’s filing from Monday says those Aug. 28 statements from Barbara Cardwell were not true.

In addition to indicating that Paul Cardwell had actually been gone for a month, Leschuck said he “was in regular contact with his mother” between August 2012 and May 2013.

Leschuck said that through Cardwell’s mother, FBI agents “encouraged defendant Cardwell to turn himself in to avoid the extradition process and make his situation easier for him.

“Through his mother, defendant Cardwell repeatedly expressed that he ‘just wasn’t ready’ to turn himself in,” Leschuck wrote

Ready or not, Thai police and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations caught up with Cardwell at a Thai gym on June 7. He was later extradited back to the United States.

Previous court filings indicated that Cardwell had signed a plea deal offered by the Wyoming U.S. Attorney’s Office before disappearing. However, Leschuck said Barbara Cardwell has admitted she forged her son’s signature on the document.

The main point of Leschuck’s Monday filing was to ask Judge Freudenthal to give the government more time to prepare for a trial; Leschuck said without an extension of time, prosecutors may have to try Cardwell by Aug. 6.

Freudenthal hadn’t ruled on the motion as of press time Wednesday.

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