Sorry, Charlie

Financial scamster Charles J. Bazarian (BW--Nov. 15) may be the consummate con man, but he's apparently not the consummate fugitive. On Nov. 26, FBI agents in San Juan, Puerto Rico, nabbed Bazarian, 54, during an afternoon screening of Carlito's Way, in which Al Pacino stars as a Puerto Rican drug dealer trying to go straight.

Bazarian's capture ended an intensive worldwide manhunt that began on Sept. 5, the day after he was to have returned to prison following his daughter's wedding reception in Oklahoma City. On Aug. 31, after revoking his probation for a laundry list of violations and ordering him back to jail, an Oklahoma City federal judge granted Bazarian a 24-hour furlough to attend the wedding unchaperoned by federal agents. The stocky, gregarious Bazarian left the reception with a woman friend but never made it back to jail.

BILLY BLUFF. Bazarian had been released from a prison halfway house in Oklahoma in early 1992 after serving part of a three-year sentence for bank fraud, conspiracy, and other violations involving financial institutions in California, Oklahoma, and Florida as well as the Housing & Urban Development Dept.

When confronted in the theater by five plainclothes agents, Bazarian initially denied being the man they were after, identifying himself as "Billy Something," according to Hector M. Pesquera, assistant special agent-in-charge of the FBI office in San Juan. Pesquera then pulled out a photo of Bazarian and asked: "Do you think this is Billy?" "No," Charlie confessed. "You got me." Dressed in resort garb, Bazarian then launched into a critique of the film, says Bob A. Ricks, agent-in-charge of Oklahoma. "He gave it a poor review and said how unrealistic it was." At the time of his arrest, Bazarian was accompanied by a son, Stephen, and an unidentified Swedish national with whom he was sharing an apartment.

According to Ricks, the search focused on Puerto Rico in early November. Agents figured Bazarian had flown to a destination outside the continental U.S. that didn't require a U.S. passport. Aided by subpoenaed airline records, the hunters narrowed the possibilities to San Juan. The FBI then flooded the city with mug shots of Bazarian: One recipient--described by Pesquera as a "concerned and helpful citizen"--spotted him near the theater and phoned the feds. "You're not going to believe this," the tipster told the agents in San Juan. Ricks said Bazarian had been island-hopping in the Caribbean but lately had apparently begun "to feel very comfortable" in Puerto Rico. That, it seems, was his undoing. "It's usually more difficult when they're moving," says Ricks.

But the saga might not be over yet. At San Juan's Metropolitan Detention Center, awaiting a Nov. 29 appearance before a U.S. magistrate, Bazarian, who has a history of heart trouble, complained of chest pains and attempted suicide by cutting his wrists with a razor. Still, that was enough to get Charlie into Metropolitan Hospital's intensive-care unit. Although Bazarian's lawyer, Robert A. Manchester III, says he has no plans to fight extradition from Puerto Rico, law enforcement officials acknowledge that Bazarian could remain hospitalized indefinitely if his physician certifies he is unfit to travel. That now seems likely. Manchester says Bazarian was scheduled for heart bypass surgery on Dec. 2.

An all-expenses-paid semiprivate hospital room in San Juan might not be Charlie Bazarian's idea of paradise. But it is no doubt preferable to the musty jail cell awaiting him on the mainland.