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Sales tax fraud fugitive caught in Vancouver

He had pocketed money earmarked for taxes on his bay area pager company, authorities say. He had been sought for the past two years.

By BRYAN GILMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2000


Canadian police Tuesday arrested William J. Manns, a fugitive at the center of a tug-of-war over tens of thousands of Tampa Bay area pager customers.

Manns, 34, was using the name Jullian Powers when he was arrested at the customs checkpoint at the Vancouver airport, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Wednesday.

The FDLE has been hunting Manns, the founder of Will Page Inc., for two years since he was mistakenly released on his own recognizance. Even while on the run, he and his former business associates sent dueling messages to the firm's customers about whether they should switch paging companies or stick with Will Page. Manns faces 130 counts of grand theft and one count each of racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, tampering with evidence and retaliation against a witness.

State agents accuse him of keeping nearly $200,000 in sales tax revenues collected at 17 Tampa Bay area stores that should have been turned over to the state Department of Revenue. They say he told associates to shred records of the scheme and threatened the life of an associate who cooperated with investigators.

He barricaded himself inside his Tampa home for 21/2 hours Feb. 5, 1998, when FDLE agents came to arrest him on the witness-tampering charge, then surrendered.

Manns' lawyer persuaded Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge William Overton to release Manns on his own recognizance before the judge saw paperwork detailing the case. Once out of jail, Manns disappeared.

Investigators think Manns, a British citizen, spent time in Australia and England after fleeing the United States.

"Over the last couple of months, we've been developing more and more leads and watching international travel," said Charles Guthrie, an FDLE special agent supervisor based in Tampa. "We were able to come up with alias names."

Tuesday a man with a British passport for Jullian Powers showed up at the Vancouver customs post to enter Canada. Local police and the Canadian Royal Mounted Police detained him.

The FDLE sent an agent to Vancouver who "positively identified" the detainee as Manns. A Canadian court will hold a hearing Monday to confirm that identity, Guthrie said.

The process of extraditing Manns back to Pinellas County may take up to two years, according to an FDLE news release. Manns' foreign citizenship will not hamper his prosecution, Guthrie said.

Once Manns is returned to Pinellas County, he will be held on $1-million bail.

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