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Dave Roepke, Published October 07 2011

Insurance should cover $55,000 manhunt

FARGO – Local law enforcement agencies spent roughly $55,000 on the 22-hour manhunt earlier this week for the sex offender who allegedly escaped from a private prison transport van near Tower City.

And after speaking Friday with the owner of Extradition Transport of America LLC, Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said the public safety agencies that were involved in the search believe they’ll get paid back for those costs.

“We didn’t receive any excuses or explanations,” Laney said. “He very much calmed our fears.”

Officials from the sheriff’s departments in Barnes and Cass counties and the state Highway Patrol conducted an 11 a.m. conference call on Friday with Bill Taylor, owner of Extradition Transport. Taylor agreed the firm’s insurance should cover expenses racked up in the search, Laney said.

Nearly 60 officers joined the search authorities say was prompted when 29-year-old Joseph Megna escaped an unlocked cage in the back of a transport van at a rest area on Interstate 94. The high-risk sex offender was found Wednesday in a Barnes County cornfield after farmers began harvesting to flush him out.

Laney said the seven law enforcement agencies that participated in the search are calculating the precise costs to forward to Barnes County Chief Deputy Don Fiebiger, who will handle the insurance claim. The claims adjuster is expected to contact Barnes County next week, Laney said.

Taylor also indicated in the conference call that he would launch an internal investigation of the escape, including determining who was responsible for apparent violations of a federal law regulating the transport of inmates by private companies, Laney said.

Laney said federal prosecutors in Fargo have told him they’re researching possible administrative penalties against the company under the Interstate Transportation of Dangerous Criminals Act of 2000, also known as Jeanna’s Act in reference to 11-year-old Jeanna North of Fargo, who was murdered in 1993 by Kyle Bell. The law was prompted by Bell’s escape in 1999 from a private prison transport firm.

Jeanna’s Act requires restraints and certain clothing to be worn by prisoners, and mandates that private firms let local officials know 24 hours in advance of any stops in their jurisdictions.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535