$1.2 million fraud fugitive surrenders at Honolulu Airport

$1.2 million fraud fugitive surrenders at Honolulu Airport

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tuesday morning an international fugitive charged with bilking Hawaii investors out of $1.2 million surrendered to the FBI, which credited a Hawaii News Now web story with helping convince the man to turn himself in.

FBI agents led Peter Heckmann, 54, in handcuffs after he arrived from Narita, Japan at Honolulu International Airport just after 7 a.m. Tuesday morning.

An FBI agent had escorted him from Indonesia where the FBI said he has been hiding since he was indicted by a Honolulu federal grand jury for fraud in 2007.

Heckmann answered "no" after a Hawaii News Now reporter asked him if he could talk about why he turned himself in.

In a 2007 Honolulu federal grand jury indictment, Heckmann was accused of stealing $1.2 million from Hawaii investors. The indictment said he enticed them to invest in his "failing" recording studio on Kauai and promised 10- to 15-percent returns in just a few weeks.  Instead, he used the money for himself and his studio, the FBI said.

While hiding out in Bali, Indonesia, the FBI said Heckmann produced an album by a Philippines rock group called KAOS.

Indonesia has no extradition treaty with the United States, so there was no way to force him to come back to Hawaii, other than to get him to fly back to Honolulu on his own.

In mid January, the FBI offered a reward of $10,000 for information leading to his arrest.

"He really couldn't travel anywhere because we had Interpol red notices out, so he was an international fugitive that everybody was looking for," said FBI Special Agent Tom Simon, who investigated the case.

Simon said he attached a Jan. 14 Hawaii News Now web story about the reward to an email he sent to Heckmann and asked him to consider turning himself in.

"What was key was Hawaii News Now's very thorough story.  We were able to use that as a link to show him the futility of continuing to stay on the run," Simon said.

Heckmann asked for time to take care of some artistic projects and make sure his wife in Indonesia would be OK and then he arrived this morning on a United Airlines flight to surrender.

"He was just tired of being on the run.  That life as a fugitive is a pretty awful life, looking over your shoulder all the time and he felt that he just wanted to put this chapter of his life behind him and face justice," Simon said.

Simon said there's little chance any of Heckmann's investors will be repaid.

"The FBI investigation at the time revealed that he had actually spent all the money on his own expenses and getting his recording studio up and running on Kauai.  And we don't believe there's any giant sack of cash that we could find," Simon said.

Heckmann's trial on seven counts of wire fraud is set to begin in early May. He is being held at the Federal Detention Center near the airport without bail until his trial, something neither Heckmann nor his court-appointed attorney objected to during a hearing Tuesday morning in federal court.

He pleaded not guilty in court Tuesday, but authorities familiar with the case expect him to plead guilty to some of the charges later, avoiding a trial.

Heckmann could face a maximum of 140 years in prison, 20 years in prison for each of seven counts.  But legal experts said it's more likely he'd be sentenced to four or five years behind bars if he's found guilty.

Simon said two years ago, he was able to track Heckmann to Bali where he operated a recording studio and had launched a record label.

Agents tried to lure him to Saipan in March 2010 with the promise of a lucrative contract with a fake band called "Frenzie."

"Unfortunately in this situation, Heckmann was pretty smart. He knew that if he set foot in the United States, he'd be arrested before he even got through airport security.  So he never showed," Simon said.

Heckmann called at the last minute and said he was "sick" and couldn't make it, Simon said.

"I've tried every trick in the book and it turns out all I had to do was ask him nicely," Simon joked.

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