2008-02-23 / News

Cortez caught in South Carolina

By Scott Rawdon

NEWARK - John Cortez is in custody. The former Buckeye Lake Village Council member, who is charged with 23 counts of unlawful sexual conduct with minors, one count of corrupting another with drugs, and a felonious weapons charge, was arrested Feb. 13. He was a fugitive from justice for nearly two months.

Licking County Sheriff Randy Thorp said Cortez was apprehended in Myrtle Beach, SC.

"I think the people in Buckeye Lake are pretty happy today," Thorp told reporters Feb. 14.

Thorp explained that Jan. 23, his office received information leading them to believe Cortez was near Myrtle Beach. Cortez' information was forwarded to Myrtle Beach police. Jan. 29, two Licking County detectives headed 606 miles to Myrtle Beach to work with local officersin an attempt to arrest Cortez.

The detectives returned Feb. 1 without him, but they "passed out a large amount of flyers" with Cortez' picture and information to hotels and bars in the Myrtle Beach area, said Thorp. Ironically, the detectives arrived home that night just in time to attend a Buckeye Lake prayer vigil for Cortez' return. No one from the sheriff's department was authorized to discuss the case during the vigil. "We had a good idea of where he was," said Thorp.

Feb. 13, 11 p.m., the Myrtle Beach Police Department received a call from a woman at Myrtle Beach's Dog House Bar & Grille who said she recognized Cortez from a flyer and he was in the bar. Myrtle Beach officersresponded and Thorp said Cortez was arrested "without incident," meaning he surrendered himself with no resistance.

Thorp said the sheriff's department is still investigating where Cortez spent his time when he was on the run and who helped him financially or otherwise. Thorp mentioned Cortez may have traveled with 22-year-old Harold James Wise but declined to give any more details. Wise has not been charged to date.

Licking County Prosecutor Ken Oswalt said Cortez probably won't face additional charges for fleeing arrest, but Cortez' flight could be used against him in court to help prove guilt. Previously, Oswalt said that Cortez, if convicted on all counts against him, could potentially receive 115 years in prison for the sex counts, eight years for the drug count, fiveyears for the weapons charge, and he could be fined more than $200,000. Feb. 14, Oswalt said Cortez has so many charges against him that a charge for fleeing arrest wouldn't make much difference, realistically.

When police raided Cortez' home Nov. 8, they found that Cortez, a convicted felon, illegally possessed weapons. At that time, Cor tez had no additional charges and was released on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond. Cortez was indicted on the rest of the charges Nov. 29 and fled. This time, said Oswalt, he'll recommend Cortez be held without bond.

Thorp said that this particular case "received a lot of attention" in local media, which helped to keep the investigation active.

Cortez has waived his right for extradition, Detective Sergeant Tom Browns said Wednesday. He hopes Cortez will be brought back to Ohio by the first week in March, but that's not certain.

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