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Escaped convict caught in Las Vegas awaits extradition

A North Las Vegas man who authorities say escaped from a Minnesota federal prison in 1992 is awaiting extradition at a federal facility in Pahrump, a Nevada U.S. Marshals Service spokesman said Thursday.

Robert Frederick Nelson, 64, was arrested last month in Las Vegas after attempting to renew his Nevada driver’s license at the DMV office on Decatur Boulevard.

Nelson was arrested by the Secret Service in the late 1980s and convicted on several counterfeiting charges. He escaped from the Federal Medical Center prison in Rochester, Minnesota, and assumed the identity of Craig James Pautler, the DMV said.

DMV facial recognition software showed the same face with a Nevada driver’s license was also under Pautler’s name, an official said.

“It was good old-fashioned police work, they put it all together,” said Kevin Malone, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles. “The technician spotted something she didn’t like about Mr. Nelson’s renewal and turned it over to investigators.”

After Nelson applied for his new driver’s license on June 20, facial recognition software installed in late 2008 measured the distance between various parts of his face, and the photo was compared against all others in the DMV database. It is the first time the DMV is aware its work has resulted in the capture of a suspected escaped prisoner, Malone said.

Rachael Martines, senior investigator for the Nevada DMV’s Compliance Enforcement Division, said every case of facial recognition is unique, but most usually deal with U.S. immigration issues.

“The facial recognition system is really good, I would say it’s 95 percent accurate,” Martines said. The system measures facial dimensions; such as distance between the eyelids to the eyebrows and the wideness of the nose.

Within 20 minutes of reviewing documents, photos and criminal histories, Martines and her partner began piecing together the identities of Nelson and Pautler. They discovered that the Secret Service arrested Nelson in the late 1980s on multiple counterfeiting charges. They placed a hold on the license to keep it from being issued and called Nelson back in to make the arrest.

Nelson’s fingerprints in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s database had only one identity number, which showed Nelson’s name and the name of his alias.

“This just told me that there was something really fishy going on,” Martines said. “Facial recognition can only do so much; it can’t tell us that the person is escaped from prison.”

Under the Pautler identity, a man was found guilty in March 1995 of burglary, three counts of robbery with use of a deadly weapon, two counts of possessing a credit card without the cardholder’s consent, and one count of possessing stolen goods, court records show.

He was sentenced to 18 years in prison, according to court records. He escaped from a Nevada holding facility with the use of a weapon, authorities say.

Nevada prisons, however, have no record of Pautler, according to spokeswoman Brooke Keast.

A Craig Pautler also was held for the Nevada Department of Prisons at a detention facility in Humboldt County in 1999, but there is no record of what charges or why, according to a sheriff’s office spokeswoman.

Nelson is accused of failing to register as a felon and fraud under the name of Craig Pautler, the DMV said, although the Nevada charges have been dropped to expedite extradition to Minnesota.

Nelson, authorities say, was issued a driver’s license under the name Craig Pautler in 1993 and was issued a Nevada identification card under the same name in 2002.

Nelson received a Nevada identification card under his real name in 2013, and it had come time to renew in 2017.

“Before, the proof of identity requirements were much less strict, and we didn’t have facial recognition at all,”Malone said, explaining why Nelson was previously able to get identification. “After 9/11, they really tightened up, and they were able to develop this case.”

The federal Bureau of Prisons is pursuing extradition and Nelson was released into the custody of the U.S. Marshals on July 3. He will serve his remaining sentence and additional time for his escape 25 years ago, authorities said.

Malone said that not every DMV has sworn officers who can make arrests.

“A lot of them will develop a case like this and turn it over,” Malone said. “We’re kind of unique in that we do have sworn officers in the Nevada DMV.”

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @brianarerick on Twitter.

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