July 18, 2012 / 1:51 AM / in 5 years

California fugitive caught in Guatemala after 18 years on the run

Jeffrey Reed Parish, 65, is seen in this handout photo released by Policia Nacional Civil (PNC) of Guatemala, on July 17, 2012. REUTERS/Policia Nacional Civil/Handout

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A California man who spent 18 years on the run from charges that he molested a 4-year-old girl has been arrested in Guatemala and returned to the United States for prosecution, authorities said on Tuesday.

Jeffrey Reed Parish, 65, was taken into custody by Guatemalan police without incident on Thursday afternoon at his home in Panajachel, about 90 miles from Guatemala City, said FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.

Eimiller said the fugitive, who was living under the assumed name “Blake,” did not resist and “appeared to know why he was being arrested.”

He was deported back to the United States on Saturday, accompanied by an FBI agent and a Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s sergeant, she said.

Parish had been scheduled for trial in Santa Barbara Municipal Court in March of 1994 when he vanished.

Investigators began reexamining the case last year and tracked him to Guatemala. They were assisted by the FBI’s legal attache in San Salvador and the Transnational Anti-Gang unit of the Guatemalan National Police.

Jeffrey Reed Parish (C), 65, is seen in this handout photo released by Policia Nacional Civil (PNC) of Guatemala, on July 17, 2012. REUTERS/Policia Nacional Civil/Handout

FBI Special Agent Ingerd Sotelo, who with a Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s detective was credited with finding Parish, said the wanted man told her he had initially fled to Mexico but spent most of the past 18 years in Panajachel.

Sotelo told Reuters Parish traveled there after hearing that the small, picturesque town on the shores of Lake Atitlan was home to a large contingent of Westerners and had eked out a living by doing gardening work.

“Nobody knew his last name and nobody ever asked and he just went by ‘Blake’,” she said. “He didn’t have any looming feeling that we were coming to get him. A lot of time has gone by.”

Parish, who was accused of molesting a 4-year-old girl in the beachside community of Carpenteria, near Santa Barbara, was expected to be prosecuted on the original charges of lewd acts on a child and oral copulation.

A Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s spokesman said authorities believe he may have molested other victims before his arrest and have asked members of the public to come forward if they have information on such crimes.

It was not immediately clear if Parish had retained a lawyer in California.

Eimiller said authorities had not yet determined his exact whereabouts for the 18 years he was a fugitive but that it was possible he was living in Guatemala for most of that time.

Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Mary Slosson and Todd Eastham

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