Police: Niece drove suspected crime leader to Mexico

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 

A niece of a Vancouver man suspected of organizing a multistate crime ring has been accused of helping him flee to Mexico while he was free on bail.

Arielle R. Engh, 19, of Vancouver appeared Monday in Clark County Superior Court on suspicion of first-degree rendering criminal assistance and methamphetamine possession.

Judge Suzan Clark held her on $20,000 bail and appointed Vancouver attorney Susan Stauffer to defend her. Engh is scheduled to be arraigned on the charges March 7.

Engh drove her uncle, Fred J. Engh, 30, of Vancouver to the United States’ border with Mexico in July when he fled from authorities, Clark County sheriff’s Detective Chris Luque wrote in a court affidavit. Fred Engh was apprehended in early November and is in Clark County Jail without bail.

He was the ring leader for 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 Fred Engh for 40 to 75 percent of their value, and he resold the gift cards online, the court documents say.

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

Phone records showed that Arielle Engh traveled to the United States-Mexico border during the week of July 22, according to the court affidavit. She was traveling for about four days, the affidavit says.

Fred Engh allegedly offered to pay her an undisclosed sum of money to drive him to the United States-Mexico border. There, Fred Engh allegedly used the passport of Bernt L. Worrell, 31, of Vancouver to cross into Mexico. Worrell also is charged with one count of first-degree rendering criminal assistance.

Fred Engh said during a recent court hearing that he fled to Mexico to seek medical treatment, not to escape justice, but he did not disclose his medical condition.

On the way to the border, Arielle Engh’s Volvo collided with a vehicle operated by Lien Banh in Sacramento, Calif., according to the court affidavit. Based on a photo comparison, Banh confirmed to sheriff’s investigators that Fred Engh was a passenger in Arielle Engh’s vehicle at the time of the collision, the affidavit says.

Arielle Engh isn’t the first relative of the alleged crime ring leader to be charged in the case.

Fred Engh’s sister, Amanda K. Engh, 33, of Vancouver has pleaded not guilty to money laundering and being an accomplice to first-degree trafficking in stolen property.

Fred Engh has been charged with more than 55 felony counts, including leading organized crime, money laundering and theft, related to the alleged crime ring. His trial is scheduled for May 5.

Before his arrest last May, Fred 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.