November 24, 2012

Private investigators torn on fugitive James Cameron's ability to elude capture

Convicted child pornography owner could prove a tough capture because of his knowledge of criminal law, but freedom on the lam is a difficult gambit, investigators say

By Michael Shepherd
Staff Writer

You just found out you're headed back to prison, so you cut off your monitoring bracelet and have some time before a federal probation officer will knock down your door.

James Cameron

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U.S. Marshal Service investigators search the residence of Barbara Cameron, the ex-wife of fugitive James Cameron, in Hallowell on Nov. 20. Authorities continue to hunt for Cameron, Maine’s former top drug prosecutor, who cut off his electronic monitoring bracelet and fled after learning his appeal of child pornography convictions had failed earlier this month.

Staff file photo by Andy Molloy

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Where do you flee? How do you stay gone? And where do federal investigators begin looking for you?

Three private investigators, two of them former high-ranking state-level law enforcement officials, say fugitive James Cameron likely has more knowledge than an average escapee.

Two of the private investigators agreed that Cameron's knowledge of the legal system makes him an especially formidable fugitive and he likely didn't flee without a well-thought-out plan.

"I would assume that he is one of the cagiest, most learned fugitives they're going to be dealing with in current times," said Thomas Santaguida, a former chief of the Maine Warden Service who now runs a Brunswick-based private investigating firm. "He knows what to do to get around everything, and most people who flee do not know that."

The private investigators were asked this week to assess the potential story behind the hunt for Cameron, a former top state drug prosecutor who was convicted in 2011 of possessing child pornography.

The U.S. Marshals Service said Cameron, 50, fled his Rome house last week after finding out that appeals of some of his convictions had failed and he would return to prison. Cameron had been out on bail since August 2011 waiting for the appeals to be heard.

On the afternoon of Nov. 14, after a federal appeals court upheld seven of his 13 convictions, he visited his ex-wife's home on Greenville Street in Hallowell and told his son he was going back to prison. Cameron appeared to be "not doing well," his wife told law enforcement officials. That meeting and what Cameron did in the hours before he fled were recounted in a document filed in U.S. District Court in Bangor by a federal probation official.

Just after 8 p.m. that night, Cameron arrived at his house in Echo Valley Estates on Watson Pond in Rome. About a half-hour later, he checked the Internet for the last time that night.

By 12:46 a.m. the electronic monitoring bracelet he was required to wear as a bail condition showed he'd left the home without authorization.

At 1:47 a.m., a federal probation officer tried to call Cameron's home phone and cellphone, but didn't get an answer.

The officer tried to call again between 7 and 8 a.m. Again he got no answer.

Around 10:30 a.m., probation officials and state police went to the house in Rome. His cellphone was still there, but Cameron, his laptop and his tan Audi were gone.

On Monday, marshals publicly announced they were hunting for Cameron.

Dean Knightly, a deputy U.S. marshal for Maine and spokesman for the service, wouldn't whether he thought Cameron's escape was planned or spontaneous. He said Friday there were no developments in the search for Cameron.

Elaborate plan or desperate act?

The private investigators are divided in their opinions of Cameron's escape plan.

To Joseph Thornton, a private eye in southern Maine since the 1970s, it looked rushed.

"It sounds like an act of a desperate man," Thornton said. "I don't think he's been planning this since August 2011."

But Santaguida and Stephen Pickering, a retired Maine State Police homicide detective who's now a private eye in Blue Hill, both doubt Cameron's exit was spur-of-the-moment.

"Lawyers tend to be pretty logical people both personally and professionally," Santaguida said. "I think he's made an elaborate plan with a lot of knowledge and a lot of planning time."

Pickering said the timing of Cameron's escape -- made hours after learning the appeals failed and during the wee hours of the morning -- makes this plan look like a planned last-resort decision.

(Continued on page 2)

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The U.S. Marshals Service wanted poster for James Cameron.

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