Defendant's alleged note to niece adds to his charges

Figure in gift card scheme says he's victim of 'witch hunt'

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 
photoFred James Engh Accused of leading multistate crime ring

()

A Vancouver man accused of organizing a multistate crime ring faces additional charges after he allegedly passed a jail note to his niece and offered to lie on her behalf in court, according to prosecutors.

Fred J. Engh, 30, of Vancouver appeared Monday in Clark County Superior Court on suspicion of two counts of tampering with a witness and felony harassment.

His niece, Arielle Engh, 19, of Vancouver was sentenced April 17 to 60 days in jail for driving Fred Engh to the U.S. border with Mexico in July when he allegedly fled from authorities. He was apprehended in early November and is in the Clark County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail.

On the day Arielle Engh pleaded guilty and was sentenced, Fred Engh allegedly tried to pass her a note through at least two jail inmates who acted as intermediaries. Arielle Engh also was a jail inmate at the time.

A custody officer saw a female inmate receive the note, according to a court affidavit.

"Look, I may not be able to send another note before trial, and I have to make a plan," Fred Engh wrote, according to the affidavit. "Wear a rubber band/hair tie on your left wrist if we met in Sacramento and you gave me a ride. Left equals we got lost together. Wear it on the right if we were never together. Touch your lips if you want me to stay quiet, plead (the) Fifth (Amendment)."

"Burn after reading," he added, according to the affidavit.

In a jail phone call to The Columbian on Monday, Fred Engh claimed that the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney's Office filed the new charges against him in retaliation for his refusal to accept a plea offer.

"They made it perfectly clear: We are going to look for more charges," Engh said.

"This is a witch hunt," he said.

He declined to comment on whether he wrote the jail note to his niece.

His legal troubles began when he was accused of being the ringleader of a network of shoplifters who stole merchandise and then returned it for store credit on a gift card, according to court documents. The shoplifters, often called "boosters," then sold the gift cards to Engh for 40 percent to 75 percent of their value, and he resold the gift cards online, according to court documents.

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

Fred Engh has been charged with more than 50 felonies related to the operation, which he claims is a legitimate business.

He said Monday that his competitor instigated the criminal investigation into his business activities. He declined to name the competitor.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; twitter.com/Col_Courts; facebook.com/ColTrends; paris.achen@columbian.com.