Fred Gilliland laughed at the short arm of the U.S. law. He would never be brought to justice, he boasted this year to a frequent visitor to his waterfront condo. He had Canada to thank for that.
Gilliland, 53, was charged four years ago by a grand jury in Florida with helping to bilk investors out of millions of dollars in an offshore investment swindle. But he fled to Vancouver, where the tall, tanned con man with the sleek blue BMW could cruise the dockside coffee shops and sweet-talk more victims into investing in stock schemes.
Sure, there were extradition proceedings. But by the time Canada finished its legal hand-wringing, he boasted in March to his acquaintance -- and to a hidden tape recorder -- he would be long gone. To Brazil, maybe, or Belize.
Gilliland, a Canadian citizen, had reason to be confident. Legal experts and law enforcement authorities on both sides of the border say the protracted extradition process and lengthy appeals in Canada let fugitives escape justice for years.
"They've exploited the border," said Sgt. Tim Alder, a fraud specialist with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Vancouver. "Extradition is slow and sluggish. We often shake our heads and say, 'What's the problem here?' Canada should not be seen as a sanctuary."
Canadian authorities say they receive an average of 130 to 160 extradition requests from the United States each year for suspects in crimes that include murder, drug offenses, fraud and parental abductions in custody disputes. Authorities say there is no record of how long those requests take and many suspects waive their right to fight extradition and agree to be returned. But those with the will and a good lawyer can snarl the process for years with appeals.
Rakesh Saxena, a high-profile financier wanted by Thai authorities for allegedly embezzling $88 million, has successfully avoided extradition from his home in British Columbia since his arrest nine years ago.
Lai Changxing, called the most-wanted man in China for his alleged involvement in a multibillion-dollar smuggling operation, has been living in Canada for four years fighting extradition.
Another Canadian, Monique Turenne, fought extradition to Florida for almost a decade to avoid facing trial in her husband's murder. She was finally extradited last year.
Extradition becomes even more difficult if capital punishment is involved. Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976, and in 2001 the Canadian Supreme Court said authorities had to secure -- and review -- a written guarantee from U.S. prosecutors waiving the death penalty before a wanted person was sent south.
Canadian authorities say the careful judicial process prevents mistakes.
"The extradition process may take some time, but it works," said a Justice Ministry spokesman, Patrick Charette. "It's a safeguard."
Extradition from Canada requires a judge to hear evidence on the crime and an approval by the federal justice minister. A third judicial step is needed if the suspect could face the death penalty. At each step in those decisions, the suspect can appeal through the clogged Canadian courts.
"It's frustrating in both directions," said John Warner, a legal researcher for Amnesty International in Ottawa. "But consider the alternative: If you didn't have binding rules, you would have vigilante rule in the world."
Frustrating legal delays prompt bail bondsmen and their agents to circumvent the Canadian courts, according to Scott Olson, national director of the National Institute of Bail Enforcement, a U.S. organization representing bounty hunters, or "fugitive recovery agents," as he said they are called.
"In a lot of cases, that means luring these people back from Canada through trickery. In some cases it works, some cases it doesn't," he said. "Are there people conducting 'black ops,' who go across and bring people back through an unguarded section of the border? I would say it does happen."
In 1981, two U.S. bounty hunters seized a Toronto man wanted in Florida on land-fraud charges, handcuffed him and drove him to Niagara Falls. Canadian officials were furious, and it took the intervention of Secretary of State George P. Shultz to calm them. The incident resulted in a 1988 agreement between the governments to prevent cross-border kidnappings.
That pact seemed effective until last November, when two bail bondsmen from Cleveland were arrested as they tried to bring a Canadian man back across the U.S. border to face drug charges.
The bondsmen had found the wanted man, Kenneth Weckwerth, 60, at his girlfriend's house 70 miles west of Ottawa. They handcuffed him and hustled him into their car, where they persuaded him to lie to border authorities about his nationality. A suspicious U.S. border officer at Niagara Falls arrested the three of them.
"I paid a high price for it," said one of the bondsmen, Robert C. Roberts, 62, who spent five months in U.S. federal prison for the attempt. "I am so sorry I ever did anything. I was just trying to do my job. I thought if I could just convince the guy to come back, it would be okay."
Roberts's colleague, Reginald Bailey, 61, is still serving a one-year U.S. sentence for smuggling an alien.
"We just don't do that here. You can't come up here and use force," said Hamish Stewart, a law professor at the University of Toronto. "Our sovereignty is infringed."
Gilliland expected that the lengthy process would give him time to make his escape. After he was indicted in 2001, U.S. prosecutors filed an extradition request. In 2003, after stories appeared in the Vancouver Sun newspaper about the fugitive's comfortable lifestyle, Canadian Mounties arrested him.
But in six months, he was out on bail, free to resume a routine centered on thrice-weekly workouts with a personal trainer, lounging at Vancouver's trendiest coffee shops and restaurants and trolling for more "victims," as he called the objects of his penny-stock scams.
One of his victims was a 49-year-old private investigator. "Gilliland called me out of the blue, out of the yellow pages" in 2004, according to the man, who spoke on condition that only his first name, Brian, be used to protect his wife and young child. "He wanted a 'bug' sweep done on his condo. He said that he felt that somebody was listening to his conversations."
The two men hit it off, Brian said, and eventually Gilliland offered to give him stock tips to "triple or quadruple my money." It was "pump and dump stuff," Brian later realized, manipulated stock that multiplied quickly from a few cents per share, and then just as fast fell to worthless. Brian said he lost $310,000.
"I got burned. I was a fool. And I'm a guy in the business," Brian said. "I didn't do a background check on him or anything."
When Brian finally inquired about Gilliland, he learned that Gilliland was wanted by the U.S. authorities. With that, Brian plotted his revenge.
Brian pretended to accept Gilliland's assurance that he could make back his money by investing further. "He thought I was stupid," Brian said. "He was probably laughing at me."
Brian befriended Gilliland over nine months, earning his trust, listening as Gilliland boasted of how he had suckered other investors, of how he was raking in a fortune and planned to flee the country.
"We kept having lunch together. He loved coupons, two-for-one specials. I went out with him every day on two-for-one specials, to nearly every . . . restaurant in Vancouver," Brian said.
On March 12, Brian asked Gilliland, a former real estate agent, for advice on a piece of property. Brian threw in the lure: a two-for-one lunch at a restaurant in Point Roberts, an inconspicuous spit of land just south of Vancouver that is not connected to the U.S. mainland but is part of the United States.
Gilliland blithely accepted, and on a sunny day the two set off in Brian's silver Dodge Dakota. Gilliland chatted about getting a false identity to live abroad. He did not know that Brian was recording their conversation. Nor did he know that Brian had tipped off U.S. authorities about their lunch date.
A few hundred yards past the U.S. border, Brian said he handed Gilliland his free luncheon coupon. He had scribbled on the back -- "3,650 lunches" -- one for every day of a 10-year prison term. As U.S. marshals swooped in, Brian reached over to unbuckle Gilliland's seat belt. "He said, 'What's going on? What's going on?' I said, 'Bye, Fred.' "
Federal marshals hustled Gilliland aboard a boat, took him down the Strait of Georgia to Bellingham, Wash., and bused him to Florida.
In June, Gilliland pleaded guilty to securities fraud and money laundering, and on Oct. 6 he was sentenced to five years in prison.
Brian said it was a shame he had to bring Gilliland to U.S. justice because the extradition process could not. Still, he acknowledged, "it felt good. It's about time he got what he deserved."
"He hurt people who worked hard for their money. And he laughed about it," Brian said. "He was so smug. He thought he was untouchable."