Sex offender back in country, back in jail

Former Fontana trustee found hiding in Costa Rica

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published August 29, 2006, 11:08 a.m.)

Gone for more than two-and-a-half years, convicted sex offender and former village of Fontana trustee James Allen Colwell is once again in the Walworth County Jail.

Colwell, who in 2000 pleaded guilty to two sexual assaults of a child, was found in Costa Rica last year working under his real name for a realty company in Playa Flamingo, an Pacific Ocean beachfront area. He was arrested Dec. 21 and was returned to Wisconsin on Friday, Undersheriff Kurt Picknell said.

According to the original criminal complaint, Colwell, 66, twice inappropriately touched a then-6-year-old girl in 1999 when he took her for ice cream and horseback riding. The girl told police he touched her sexually about a month prior in her home.

Colwell was sentenced to a year in jail by Walworth County Judge James Carlson and given 30 years probation.

He served his time and transferred the probation to Gainesville, Ga., where he had family.

Georgia authorities were investigating allegations that Colwell was trying to lure children into his home, Sheriff David Graves said.

Colwell disappeared in January 2004 after failing to contact his Wisconsin probation agent.

He reappeared in August 2005 after authorities received a tip that he might be in Costa Rica, District Attorney Phil Koss said. He had been using his real name, working at the realty company and using a credit card, Koss said.

Following months of paperwork between Koss, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. State Department, Interpol, and the Costa Rican government and police, Colwell was arrested in the Central American country in Dec. 21, 2005.

"We were very excited and very happy with what law enforcement has done for us," the father of the now-13-year-old girl told The Week in an earlier interview

Colwell remained in custody there since, eating beans, rice and bread in a Costa Rican jail and fighting the extradition in the Costa Rican courts, said U.S. Marshal Bill Kruziki.

"He hired an attorney down there," said Kruziki, who went to Costa Rica to pick up Colwell. "I don't know how much he spent, but he fought it all the way up to the very last minute."

Colwell might have been planning to leave Costa Rica if he was released from custody, Assistant District Attorney Dennis Krueger said.

"When he was brought back here he was in possession of some notes that indicated he was contemplating being released and then fleeing the country (Costa Rica)," Krueger said at a Monday bail hearing. "He also made some statements about trying to come up with large sums of money in order to post bond (in Costa Rica)."

Police would not release further details about such notes or statements.

Colwell, who Kruziki said was clean and healthy with no medical problems, appeared via video at the bail hearing wearing an orange jump suit. He did not have an attorney represent him.

He could be charged with failure to maintain his sex offender status, a felony punishable by six years in prison, Krueger said. Judge John Race ordered a $100,000 bond.

Colwell has an upcoming court appearance on Friday. He will eventually have a probation revocation hearing, Koss said.

If his probation is revoked, Colwell could go to prison for at least 7 1/2 years, when he becomes parole eligible, Koss said. He will then have another sentencing hearing since one of the original charges had a withheld sentence. A judge could add more time to Colwell's prison term, Koss said.

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