Herb Minton, the Charles County, Md., bowling league treasurer accused of making off with $35,000 of his club's prize money, took a recreational van on a month-long, cross-country odyssey before flying back to Maryland from California on Sunday and turning himself in to state police, according to investigators in Waldorf.
Minton, 52, of Greenbelt, had been missing since May 21 when he failed to show up at the awards night for the 150-member Southern Maryland Men's Commercial Bowling League, where he was to present top scorers with their prize money.
None of the money has been recovered and state police said that Minton told them it was all spent during his trip that took him first to Pennsylvania, then to Tennessee for his father's funeral and, finally, to the bedside of a relative who is dying of cancer in El Monte, Calif.
Police and jail officials said that two hours after Minton was charged with grand theft he was free on $10,000 bond.
"At least he was honest. He told the court commissioner that he planned to fly back to California to be with his wife and her dying sister, but would be back in time for his trial," said Cpl. George Jacobs, an investigator with the Maryland State Police.
Jacobs said Minton told him he had "a lot of personal problems and bills and he seemed sorry about the whole thing."
Minton could not be reached for comment at his home in Greenbelt and a friend who answered the telephone said, "No one in the family wants to talk."
State police said their first tip in the case came from a woman who called them Thursday after reading an article in The Washington Post and said that she could tell them Minton's whereabouts if there was a reward. "I called the bowling league and they put up $1,000," Jacobs said.
The woman told police she knew that Minton had purchased a used Dodge Travco recreation vehicle valued at about $12,000 and she provided state police with a tag number and an address in El Monte, Jacobs said.
"We alerted the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department and they went out to try and find Minton," he said.
"Our deputies went out to that location and were advised that Herb Minton had already purchased an airline ticket back to Maryland," said David Tellez of the Los Angeles department. "We later confirmed his reservation with the airline," he said.
Jacobs said that he got a call from Minton's daughter, Laurie, soon after the sheriff's deputies left.
"She said her father had called her at the family home in Greenbelt and said he wanted to turn himself in here, rather than be arrested in California."
Police and bank officials said that Minton closed out the league's account at the Citizens Bank of Maryland in Riverdale on May 15 by withdrawing $25,500.
Butch Luther, manager of the St. Charles Bowling Center said the prize purse was part of the $12 each bowler paid to play each week.
"Apparently, Minton had not been depositing all the money each week," a police spokeswoman said.
"This appears to have been going on for some time, and he just got caught short the night of the bowling awards when he realized he didn't have enough money to make the awards."
Jacobs said that Minton bought the camper the same day as the awards banquet and headed for Pennsylvania, where he spent two weeks before finding out about his father's death in Knoxville, Tenn.
"His wife joined him for the funeral and they drove to California together," Jacobs said.
On the way west, the camper broke down, so the couple spent two days in Colorado waiting for spare parts and repairs, before continuing to Dorothy Minton's sister's house, police said.
Minton's disappearance and arrest stunned his fellow bowlers and put the league's financial standing in jeopardy, said Robert G. Hennessy president of the American Bowling Congress.
Hennessy said the league will probably "only get half of the $35,000 back at best" and its president, Robert Stokes, will most likely be banned from league play for a year.
"Their president trusted the guy, and that's unfortunate. He's supposed to verify every deposit. Stokes told us himself that he didn't follow this procedure," Hennessy said.
"I'm just trying to take one day at a time," Stokes said.
"I trusted the guy and I got burned. I'm surprised the bond was set so low, and now he's left the state . . . . I am still reeling from the shock."
Kenny Mangum, who describes Minton as a 20-year friend and bowling buddy, said he "still can't understand why Minton would risk everything and embarrass himself and his family for $35,000.
"He had too much going for him . . . . It's just not that much money," Mangum said.