Escaped fugitive back in custody after hiding on Big Island

HAWI, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - When the man known as Jim Sargent arrived on the Big Island of Hawaii, he left behind a troubled past — one that included a drug ring and a prison escape — and began living what his attorney called an "exemplary life."

Sargent, whose real name is Eugene Esposito, was arrested in 1986 in California for reportedly attempting to buy 220 pounds of cocaine from agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Convicted of running a cocaine distribution ring, he had been serving a fifteen year prison sentence at a minimum security federal facility in Lompoc, California when he escaped in 1990.

After the escape, Esposito ended up in Hawi on the Big Island. According to friends, he got married and had two sons while living in a five-bedroom plantation house.

While on the Big Island, Esposito also ran a mortgage company, published the Kohala Mountain News, and purchased several properties, including a hotel, the Kohala Village Inn, and a restaurant called Luke's Place.

Friends said that Esposito was kind and often charitable, taking special care of those in his community. When the powerful 2006 earthquake damaged area homes, he helped people whose homes had been damaged.

"He provided manpower and machinery to help get their homes back up and running, and didn't charge for it," said Hawi resident Gale Leonardi.

In March 2011, Kona police arrested Esposito for allegedly driving under the influence in Kailua-Kona. While in custody, the fingerprints of a man believed to be Jim Sargent were taken.

"We use a computerized fingerprint machine to do what is called a live scan," said Chris Loos, Hawaii County Police Department spokesperson. "That machine generates fingerprints and automatically sends them electronically to both the Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center and the FBI."

The machine showed that Sargent was actually a federal fugitive.

"If that person is wanted in another jurisdiction, we receive an electronic message and so does that other agency. In this case, the U.S. Marshals Service in California faxed us a request asking for more information," said Loos.

But authorities didn't end up catching Esposito, who is now 62, until more than year later. He apparently moved to Thailand last October. He was arrested in Chiang Mai last month, and then handed over to authorities from the United States. He is currently in custody at a federal prison in Los Angeles.

Surprisingly, federal authorities have decided not to pursue additional punishment for Esposito following the escape, and court documents indicate he only has about a third —five years and three months — left of his original prison sentence.

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