Cosmetics heir begins serving prison sentence in California

Saturday, June 21, 2003

LOS ANGELES -- Cosmetics heir and former fugitive Andrew Luster began serving a 124-year sentence he had dodged for months by fleeing to Mexico after his conviction for drugging and raping three women.

The FBI put him aboard a plane in Mexico and flew him back to California on Thursday, a day after he was captured by bounty hunters.

Luster, who fled the country just days before the verdict five months ago, was arrested by Mexican police after he scuffled with the bounty hunters near a taco stand in the beach resort of Puerto Vallarta.

Luster's attorney said his client has always insisted that he is innocent and that he had consensual sex with the women.

The former fugitive was taken to Wasco State Prison in central California, where prison spokesman Troy Ojeda said he would spend about 90 days in a processing center. During that time officials will decide which prison to send him to permanently.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton said she couldn't speculate if Luster would be transferred to another prison, but added that a number of factors will be considered, including his former fugitive status and the amount of publicity surrounding his case.

In Los Angeles, attorney Roger Diamond filed paperwork Friday asking the state Supreme Court to consider whether Luster can appeal of his conviction. Luster's return to this country allowed him to beat a deadline for seeking the action, Diamond said.

The state Court of Appeal had ruled June 10 against considering the appeal, saying Luster had forfeited that right because he became a fugitive.

Authorities said Luster, who lived off a trust fund and real estate investments, took three women to his seaside home at Mussel Shoals, northwest of Los Angeles, between 1996 and 2000 and attacked them after giving them the so-called date-rape drug GHB. Some of the encounters were videotaped.

After he jumped his $1 million bail in January, a Ventura County Superior Court jury convicted him of multiple counts of rape, poisoning and drug possession.

Luster was staying at a $34-a-night hotel next door to a police station in Puerto Vallarta when he left his room before dawn Wednesday to order tacos from a street vendor and was confronted by the bounty hunters.

Mexican police responding to reports of a brawl early Wednesday caught up with the bounty hunters and took Luster and his captors into custody.

Bounty hunter Duane "Dog" Chapman and four associates, including Chapman's son and grandson, remained in custody in Mexico, where bounty hunting is considered kidnapping.

An American couple who had met Luster in Puerto Vallarta saw his picture on television after returning home and had tipped off the FBI and a bounty hunter, said FBI spokeswoman Laura Bosley.

Authorities said the FBI had an agent en route to the Pacific resort where Luster apparently spent the last month when the bounty hunters got to him first.

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