When a wealthy California woman disappeared moments before a D.C. Superior Court jury found her guilty of stealing a mink coat, defense lawyers and prosecutors described it as a fitting end to the colorful but much-delayed case.

Many said they assumed that the woman was en route to Mexico to join her hotel entrepreneur husband, who also had been charged in the theft of the coat.

So when Shante Kimes, 41, also known as Santee, and her husband, Kenneth, 67, were arrested over the weekend in California on charges that they kept four Central American women as slaves, those involved in her case here were surprised -- but only mildly.

"It's a never ending saga," one lawyer said.

In Las Vegas, the Kimeses face charges filed in a federal criminal complaint that they conspired to keep four Central American women in "a condition of involuntary servitude."

The four women, at various times, were not allowed to communicate with anyone, nor were they paid, according to the affidavit. One woman, who traveled with the couple to Hawaii, was beaten and imprisoned, the affidavit said. Another alleged she was burned and threatened with being sent back to her home, where she would be subject to imprisonment.

The Kimeses had been charged with stealing a mink coat from the piano bar of the Mayflower Hotel 5 1/2 years ago in a case dubbed "Minky Business" by the newspapers.

Grand larceny trials regularly occur in D.C. Superior Court and the value of the property taken in this case was not large -- $6,500. But in terms of color and surprise, the six-day trial, as one prosecutor said, had everything.

There were delays. More than 15 were ordered, many after Kenneth and Shante Kimes submitted doctor's letters, from Mexico to Hawaii, that they were too ill to stand trial. Kenneth Kimes has not yet been tried in the case.

There was the defendant. Kimes did not take the stand but appeared every day in flowing white gowns or light pink outfits. Two witnesses described her as a "fatter Elizabeth Taylor" or a "bad Liz." Defense lawyer Gary Kohlman tried to get men on the jury "for sympathy," while prosecutor Ken Carroll tried to keep them off.

There was money. At the time of her arrest in the Mayflower Hotel, Kimes was traveling with a personal maid, a nanny and a "man Friday." At one pretrial hearing, one financial adviser testified that the Kimes, who own hotels in Anaheim and a large construction company, were worth about $12 million. During the 5 1/2 years since the arrest, Kimes traveled extensively. She also hired and released from service some of the better known criminal lawyers in town before she retained her current attorney, Gary Kohlman, a leading lawyer.

Just before the jury issued their verdict, Kimes disappeared. The jury was not told why Kimes was absent, but Judge Sylvia Bacon immediately issued a bench warrant for her arrest. At the time, court records show Kimes was believed to be on her way to Mexico.

"It seemed like an appropriate ending to a case that obviously had an ambiguous history . . . ." Kohlman said. "It was the last play."

Three days later, Kimes sent Kohlman and Bacon a telegram saying that she had had an accident while the jury was deliberating and had been hospitalized. She said her wallet and identification had been stolen during the injury and that she was in California. Kimes and her husband were arrested Saturday in the San Diego community of La Jolla. It is not clear when the Kimeses can be returned to the District.