By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item
MIDDLEBURG — Convicted thief Kurt J. Keiper was held in lieu of $4.5 million cash Wednesday after informing a Snyder County Court judge that he fled the state before he could be sentenced last spring because he had “some matters to take care of.”
Keiper, 41, of Middleburg, finally appeared in the Snyder County courtroom more than eight months after he pleaded guilty to stealing about $340,000 from 12 customers who paid for vehicles he never delivered.
He was scheduled to be sentenced in early April, but instead he fled from Pennsylvania.
Keiper told public defender Patrick Johnson that he failed to appear at a hearing in March two weeks prior to sentencing because he had other “matters” to attend to.
“He didn’t go into great detail what they were,” Johnson told the court.
For months there was no word on Keiper’s whereabouts until early September, when an anonymous tip led to his capture in Durango, Colo., where La Plata sheriff’s deputies found him with his wife, Jessecca, 30, and two children.
Keiper allegedly admitted to deputies that he had been living under a pseudonym in Alaska before relocating to Colorado in March.
In mid-March, Jessecca Keiper filed for and received a protection-from-abuse order in Snyder County after alleging he had assaulted her. She later allegedly admitted joining her husband in Colorado soon after the PFA was issued.
When Keiper was taken into custody on warrants issued in Pennsylvania for his arrest, he was also charged with violating the PFA that was still in effect.
He was brought back to Snyder County on Sunday and appeared late Wednesday morning before Senior Judge Harold F. Woelfel Jr. on a bench warrant for failing to appear at a court hearing in March.
District Attorney Michael Piecuch said Keiper “willfully” fled the state and should be held in contempt of court, which would add up to six more months to the 10-year to 20-year prison sentence he faces for the theft convictions.
Piecuch also requested bail be set at $1 million, citing the amount of money stolen, Keiper’s decision to flee and his ability to move freely throughout North America.
“He should not be given an opportunity to leave,” the prosecutor said.
Johnson argued that additional jail time would be redundant since Keiper already faces significant prison time and called the request for $1 million bail “excessive.”
Woelfel did not find Keiper in contempt of court, but did set a high bail.
Initially it appeared bail would be less than Piecuch’s requested $1 million when the judge set it at $500,000 cash, along with electronic monitoring.
But then Woelfel informed Keiper that he would have to pay $500,000 cash for each of the nine felony counts of theft before he would be released from county jail pending the sentencing hearing.
That would total $4.5 million, an amount Piecuch said is appropriate.
“We have no idea how much money he has stashed away, or if he has any. It’s obvious he has resources to support himself,” Piecuch said, referring to the many months Keiper lived on the run.
State police continue to investigate how Keiper was able to live while on the lam and whether anyone helped him.
Piecuch said Keiper’s decision to run and try to avoid justice, as well as his prior convictions for similar crimes in other counties, may be considered when the judge hands down the penalty.
“This is a man who’s shown he’s in the business of victimizing people,” Piecuch said. “He’s the Bernie Madoff of Snyder County. He has no remorse or appreciation for the lives he’s affected, including his own family.”