John Knox Bridges, a convicted fraud artist who was apprehended in a church basement after failing to show up for his sentencing hearing, may now face additional penalties for criminal contempt of court.
Bridges, who has been convicted of devising intricate schemes to bilk more than $2.3 million from friends and investors, was arrested Jan. 26 after police found him in a Salisbury church with a shotgun and a suicide note. He surrendered peacefully.
Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to initiate criminal contempt of court proceedings against Bridges.
The day of his sentencing, Bridges repeatedly told his defense lawyer that he was on his way to court for the hearing. But when he didn’t show up, his lawyer tried to check on his location, court records show.
“At that moment, Mr. Bridges informed counsel that he had a shotgun and was about to kill himself because he was too embarrassed to face his victims,” Rahwa Gebre-Egziabher, Bridges’ former defense lawyer, wrote in a motion to the court recently.
Gebre-Egziabher has withdrawn as Bridges’ defense lawyer, saying that the recent developments would require her “to become a central witness and in some respects potentially adverse witness to her client.”
During the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Bob Conrad asked Gebre-Egziabher to explain why Bridges didn’t show. The defense lawyer declined, saying that would violate attorney-client privilege. The attorney asked to speak privately with Conrad, but the judge declined.
In a recent order allowing Gebre-Egziabher to resign as Bridges’ lawyer, Conrad wrote that the lawyer’s refusal to tell the court about her communications with Bridges was unwarranted.
“Counsel’s inexplicable silence exacerbated a dangerous situation, enabled the commission of criminal activity, and jeopardized the safety of law enforcement officers charged with apprehending a fugitive known by counsel to be armed,” the judge wrote.
In 2009, the Observer reported on allegations that Bridges made off with money from North Carolina fresco artist Ben Long, the Minnesota-based Lindbergh Foundation and the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer.
Last February, Bridges pleaded guilty to securities fraud and money laundering. He could face between 57 and 71 months in prison for those crimes, according to federal sentencing guidelines.
If found guilty of contempt of court, Bridges could face more than six months in prison – in addition to whatever time he gets for his financial crimes.