Fugitive Reno pawn shop owner reneges on surrender in Mexico
RENO – The wealthy ex-pawn shop owner wanted in the slaying of his estranged wife and the shooting of the judge handling their divorce arranged to surrender in Mexico on Thursday but failed to show up, authorities said.
Darren Mack, who was sighted in two cities in Baja California, had negotiated his surrender but failed to turn himself in at the U.S. Consulate in Puerto Vallarta, police said at a news conference.
“He assured us he would be there this morning,” Reno Police Chief Michael Poehlman said. “He did not show.”
The sightings are the most significant break in an international manhunt for Mack, who is wanted for killing Charla Mack and shooting Family Court Judge Chuck Weller 10 days ago.
In addition to charging Mack with the murder of his estranged wife, Poehlman said police have probable cause to charge him with attempted murder in the sniper attack on Weller.
Mack, 45, contacted Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick earlier this week “and expressed a desire to surrender,” Poehlman said.
Investigators last communicated with him Wednesday night when they concluded he was on the west coast of Mexico based on comments he made and information the FBI developed, Poehlman said. Mack has also been using the names Darren Stone and John Smith, he said.
Gammick said he’s talked with Mack, who he has known for 20 years, by phone about a dozen times over the past four days. They’ve also communicated by e-mail.
“He would not tell me where he was at,” Gammick said. “We’ve never been able to accurately pinpoint him.”
Mack sounded “concerned,” according to Gammick, who said he thought Mack was being “pretty straight up” with him.
“He did express to me that he called me because I’m the only one he trusts in the system,” Gammick said.
Mack did not ask about his children but “he did ask me to call the family to convey to them to give his love to his mother and brother and tell them he was in good health,” he said.
Gammick said he doesn’t know why Mack failed to turn himself in as promised.
“I thought it was worked out this morning until he didn’t show up,” Gammick told CNN Headline News’ Nancy Grace Thursday night.
“We’re not sure where he is now. We’re back on the manhunt again looking for him,” he said.
Gammick said Mack has contacted his Reno lawyer, Scott Freeman, but he wouldn’t provide details. Freeman was unavailable for comment, his secretary said.
Gammick said there’s no evidence anyone else was involved in the stabbing of Charla Mack or shooting of Weller, but authorities don’t know if he had help fleeing the country.
Poehlman said police had a “credible” sighting of Mack at a resort swimming pool in Cabo San Lucas on June 15. He’s believed to have been in La Paz on the Baja Peninsula two days later and miles away on Mexico’s west coast around Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta earlier this week.
“We believe he is in that area. We do not know for a fact whether he is or he is not,” the police chief said, adding that Mack “could have traveled a great distance,” since authorities last spoke with him Wednesday night.
“Our belief is he has a large sum of cash with him,” Poehlman said.
Mack was a co-owner of Palace Jewelry & Loan Co. Inc., a pawn shop, until he turned over control in 2005 to his mother, a lawyer for the business said. Mack earned more than $500,000 a year and had a net worth of $9.4 million as recently as 2004, according to court documents.
The FBI added Mack to its list of “Most Wanted” fugitives Tuesday, the same day Charla Mack, 39, was buried. He is considered armed and dangerous, “with access to all types of weapons,” FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said.
A search warrant affidavit said officers found several boxes of ammunition and an empty gun case with a receipt for a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle equipped with a laser sighting device at Mack’s town house, where Charla Mack’s body was found in the garage in a pool of blood in the hours after Weller was shot.
Weller was hit in the chest from three football fields away while standing next to the window in his third-floor office at the Washoe County courthouse complex. He was released from the hospital last week and is recovering at an undisclosed location under guard.
“It is our greatest hope that no further bloodshed occur in this matter,” Weller said in a written statement Thursday.
“We sincerely hope that law enforcement is successful in bringing this matter to a peaceful conclusion.”
Poehlman said police are continuing to investigate the possibility Mack was at Sacramento International Airport, where the afternoon of his wife’s killing a corporate credit card Mack had access to was used at a parking garage.
He said the ticket indicated the vehicle was there only for 10 minutes.
Investigators assume he was there but have no eyewitness and the surveillance videotape is grainy, Poehlman said.
“He could have given it to anyone. That could be an attempt to try to lead us in a false direction,” he told CNN.