"Person of interest" in Alaska barista case pleads innocent to fraud

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 27, 2012 10:29 PM
"Person of interest" in Alaska barista case pleads innocent to fraud

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE (Reuters) - A man police have called a "person of interest" in the abduction of an 18-year-old barista from an Alaska coffee stand pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to a felony count of fraud.

Israel Keyes, 34, entered his not guilty plea during an arraignment in District Court in Anchorage.

Keyes, a former soldier who owns an Anchorage construction company, was taken into custody earlier this month in Lufkin, Texas. Police have identified him as a "person of interest" in the disappearance of barista Samantha Koenig.

Koenig vanished from a drive-up coffee stand in Anchorage at the end of her evening shift in early February. Police said a security camera captured images of a man forcing her out of the stand.

Law-enforcement officials have declined to say whether Keyes is suspected of being that man. He is charged with one count of access-device fraud concerning a stolen bank card that officials said was used to withdraw cash in various states.

Koenig's disappearance has been high-profile news in Anchorage, where family members and supporters established a reward fund for information leading to her safe return.

Supporters held a candlelight vigil for Koenig last month in downtown Anchorage, and volunteers have given local baristas self-defense training. Law enforcement officials said on Tuesday they do not know Koenig's fate.

"Certainly, everybody is hopeful that she is still alive, and we are proceeding on that basis," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis told a news conference after the arraignment.

U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler said officials were unable to provide details about the case, including any possible involvement of other people, because information was still being gathered.

"We don't have all the details yet, and what we don't have is Ms. Koenig," she said.

Officials said they were seeking information from the public about a truck Keyes used in his construction business. That truck was seized by local police in Anchorage when Keyes was arrested in Texas.

Keyes was appointed a public defender at Tuesday's arraignment. He was ordered detained without bail after prosecutors described him as a flight risk.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Johnston)