Trial date set for suspected leader of crime-ring

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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A former international fugitive suspected of organizing a multistate crime ring pleaded not guilty Monday to charges connected to his disappearance in May from the Clark County area while free on bail.

Fred J. Engh, 30, of Vancouver was charged Monday in Clark County Superior Court with two counts of bail jumping. He failed to show up at July 24 and Dec. 5 hearings on 55 pre-existing charges related to allegations that Engh operated an organized crime ring in Washington, Oregon and Nevada, according to a probable cause affidavit filed in court.

His trial is scheduled for May 5.

Judge John Nichols on Monday set Engh’s bail at $1 million. Engh had been held without bail since he was apprehended in early November.

Authorities found him in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, after he allegedly fled the country using another person’s passport. He was transferred to the San Diego County, Calif., jail and then extradited to Clark County. He appeared Dec. 13 in Superior Court when Deputy Prosecutor Scott Ikata indicated he planned to file at least one bail jumping charge against Engh.

Bernt L. Worrell, 31, of Vancouver is accused of obtaining a U.S. passport and then giving it to Engh at a Woodland Walmart. Worrell is charged with one count of first-degree rendering criminal assistance.

Engh said he fled to Mexico to seek medical treatment but didn’t disclose his medical condition.

The alleged crime ring involved a network of shoplifters who stole merchandise and then returned it for store credit on a gift card, according to court documents. The “boosters” then allegedly sold the gift cards to Engh for 40 to 75 percent of their value, and Engh resold the gift cards online.

The ring operated for a period of at least three years in Washington, Oregon and Nevada, officials say.

Before his arrest in May, Engh was one of 20 members of the board for the Portland-based Meals on Wheels. The organization serves hot meals to needy seniors in the Portland-Vancouver metro area.