Fugitive Boynton Beach cop who fled to Brazil may be out of reach of American authorities forever

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. — Fugitive David Britto may be out of reach of American authorities forever.

This city's former Police Officer of the Year was under house arrest, awaiting trial on drug trafficking charges, when he cut the electronic monitoring bracelet from his ankle Aug. 24 and hopped on a plane in Miami, bound for his native country, Brazil , according to court documents filed Wednesday.

Brazil's constitution prohibits the extradition of Brazilian nationals.

"Basically he's gone unless the Brazilian government, through political pressure, allows U.S. agents to pick him up," said attorney David Rowe, an adjunct law professor at the University of Miami and an extradition expert.

Britto, 28, appears to have successfully gambled on a high-stakes escape, rather than risk facing years in prison. He is to stand trial beginning Tuesday.

The daring run, however, raises questions about how he pulled it off and who, if anyone, helped him.

On Thursday, the U.S. Marshals Service, which is spearheading the hunt for Britto, said federal agents are looking at every possible way of getting Britto back to Miami, where he faces one count of conspiring to possess and traffic 500 grams of methamphetamine.

"We're still pursuing him," Marshals Service spokesman Barry Golden said. "He's one of the big cases that are on the top of our list … We're still tracking down every lead. We're trying to get him back into custody at all costs."

Attempts to get Britto back are sure to be challenging, if not downright impossible.

A 1964 treaty between the United States and Brazil allows for the extradition of anyone accused or convicted of a crime carrying a sentence of a year or more.

But in 1988, Brazil amended its constitution, expressly stating that "no Brazilian shall be extradited."

People born elsewhere who become Brazilian citizens, however, can be handed over if they're charged with certain drug-related crimes. Foreigners who find safe harbor in Brazil and are accused of political crimes elsewhere are not extradited.

The strict policy has strained Brazil's diplomatic relations.

Earlier this summer Italy denounced Brazil for refusing to turn over political refugee Cesare Battisti, a former Italian militant, convicted in absentia of killing four people in the 1970s.

Meanwhile, Brazil's refusal to extradite an Ohio woman, Claudia Hoerig, charged in the 2007 murder of her husband, has outraged an Ohio congressman.

U.S. Rep. Timothy Ryan, a Democrat, introduced legislation in June to withhold $14 million a year in aid to Brazil until it reverses its ban on extraditing nationals. The bill is in a House committee.

Ryan has gone so far as to post an ever-changing clock on his website, showing the number of days, hours, minutes and seconds that Hoerig "has escaped justice." On Thursday, it registered 1,641 days.

"It's been a nightmare experience on our end up here," Trumbull County, Ohio, Prosecuting Attorney Dennis Wilkins said of efforts to extradite Hoerig. "I've dealt with President [George W.] Bush, Condoleezza Rice, the attorney general and now with [President Barack] Obama and Hillary Clinton, and we've not gotten satisfactory action."

In Florida, the tamper alert on Britto's ankle bracelet went off the night of Aug. 24, notifying a federal probation officer, according to court records. But U.S. Marshals were not told until the next morning. Only then was a warrant was issued for his arrest, authorities said.

That gave Britto a window of time to escape.

"You cannot respond the next morning. That's a major security breach," said Rowe, the University of Miami law professor.

Court documents say Britto, who speaks Portuguese, boarded a plane Aug. 24 in Miami bound for Brasilia, the capital of Brazil.

It is unclear what documentation he used to board the international flight.

As a standard condition of bond, Britto had to relinquish "all passports and travel documents" to the Pretrial Services Office.

"Mr. Britto's Brazilian passport was revoked as a standard condition of release by the court," said Laura Sweeney, a Justice Department spokeswoman in Washington.

Britto was free on a $100,000 bond. He and his mother signed for half the bond and the other half was guaranteed by bailbonds.com, a Miami company.

Britto may be able to live out his days in Brazil, but he likely is landlocked, said Douglas McNabb, whose Washington, D.C., firm specializes in international extradition law.

Federal authorities likely will file a lifetime "red notice" with Interpol's 188 member countries that will trigger Britto's arrest if he leaves Brazil.

"He may leave Brazil a month from now or 30 years from now and go to Costa Rica," McNabb said. "And when he goes through customs, his red notice [shows up]."

That's what happened to director Roman Polanski, who was arrested in 2009 in Switzerland after being wanted by the United States since 1978 on a statutory-rape conviction. He hid in France, avoiding extradition countries, until he was captured. Polanski was

freed by Swiss authorities on a legal technicality the following year.

It's unknown if someone helped Britto reach Brazil.

According to his website, http://www.blessedwarrior.com, he was born in Brazil and moved to Queens, N.Y., when he was 7.

He joined the Boynton Beach police in 2006.

The Police Department still has an open internal investigation into Britto's escape, but he's likely to be fired soon, police said Thursday.

Staffer writer Alexia Campbell and staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.

Print this article Back to Top

Comments