Sheriff: Millionaire's Elaborate Jail Escape Plan Was Foiled

Authorities allege John Manchec, 78, planned to escape during a doctor's appointment
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 24, 2023 3:00 AM CDT
Florida Sheriff: We Uncovered Millionaire's Jail Escape Plan
This photo provided by Indian River County Sheriff's Office shows John Manchec.   (Indian River County Sheriff's Office via AP)

Authorities say they’ve foiled an elderly businessman's plan to escape a Florida jail and return to France—a country he had previously fled to in an attempt to avoid child pornography charges. A tip from outside the jail sparked a two-month investigation of John Manchec, 78, and people he had enlisted in his escape plan, Indian River County Sheriff Eric Flowers said Monday during a news conference. "Essentially, the plan comes down to this," Sheriff Flowers said. "These folks that are on the outside are going to wait until Manchec has a doctor's visit, and they are going to take out our corrections staff while he's out at the medical facility."

The plan called for Manchec’s employees to pepper-spray prison guards and take him to his private plane in nearby Fort Pierce, so that he could fly to France, Flowers said. The escape plot centered on an April 12 medical appointment, Flowers said. But at least one of the people involved tipped off law enforcement, allowing investigators to unravel the plot. Manchec is a multimillionaire with dual US and French citizenship who was arrested in 2014 on 49 child pornography charges. Flowers said he left the country to avoid prosecution after posting a nearly $500,000 bond, and moved to his medieval estate in southern France, the Chateau Pechrigal.

France denied US attempts to extradite him, but he was eventually arrested in the Dominican Republic in 2020 and returned to Florida, according to the sheriff. An examination of Manchec's jail phone records discovered he used the code words "paint job" while talking with his employees about the plot, reports the AP. They were to prepare his plane, his 140-foot yacht, a black utility van, and other vehicles purchased just for the escape attempt, Flowers said. Manchec even paid the bail for a cellmate, and then allowed them to live in his home.

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That person helped prepare for the escape, down to packing a suitcase, and his favorite liquor, the sheriff said. Flowers said the plan was to go "back to his castle in France" and never have to face the charges. Manchec remains in the Indian River County Jail, with additional charges related to the escape. Two inmates and two employees were also arrested and charged with conspiracy in the escape plot.

(More prison escape stories.)

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