CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (AP) — An FBI agent moonlighting as a sailing instructor was among those who became suspicious when a New York real estate executive negotiated to buy a $400,000 sailboat to flee to South America and elude vehicular manslaughter and other charges after a fatal Southampton car crash last summer, prosecutors said.
Sean Ludwick was ordered held without bail at a hearing Tuesday on Long Island; he was arrested last week on suspicion of trying to evade prosecution.
Ludwick, 43, a managing partner and founder of Manhattan-based Blackhouse Development, pleaded not guilty earlier this month to charges in the August death of his passenger. He had been free on $1 million bond.
"I don't think any amount of bail would assure his return to court," state Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho said. "He's remanded."
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said besides trying to buy a 50-foot sailboat capable of helping him flee, Ludwick performed hundreds of Internet searches on topics like finding countries that don't have extradition treaties with the United States, such as Venezuela, as well as information on the percentage of bail jumpers who are actually caught, trials in absentia, and how to be an effective liar.
"This man was absolutely going to flee," Spota said after the court proceeding. "The searches clearly show that he wanted to know what country or countries were free of extradition to the United States. He was focusing clearly on Venezuela."
Spota said Ludwck began plotting his escape after the Jan. 4 arraignment, where he learned he could face up to 32 years in prison if convicted of aggravated vehicular manslaughter, drunken driving and leaving the scene of a fatal crash. Prosecutors have said a blood sample taken four hours after the crash showed Ludwick's blood-alcohol content was 0.18, more than double the state's legal limit of 0.08.
The Aug. 30 crash killed his passenger, 53-year-old Paul Hansen, a real estate broker who lived in Sag Harbor. Prosecutors said Ludwick crashed his Porsche into a utility pole, dragged Hansen's body from the car and left it within feet of Hansen's driveway.
He then tried to flee the scene, but two of the wheels had come off and the mangled rims of the other two prevented him from traveling more than a quarter-mile, investigators said.
Defense attorney Benjamin Brafman denied Ludwick was plotting to flee, saying he has two young children he would have to leave behind. "It was never his intent to leave the United States," Brafman said, suggesting the Internet searches were nothing more than a fantasy.
Brafman said, "of all the sailing instructors in the world," Ludwick encountered an FBI agent in Puerto Rico who had given his client sailing instructions. Prosecutors said Ludwick had discussed purchasing a sailboat with the help of the sailing instructor/FBI agent, whom they declined to identify. They said the real estate executive, with a purported wealth in the hundreds of millions, had gone so far as to wire $385,000 to Puerto Rico to complete the sale.
According to court documents, the sailing instructor became suspicious of questions Ludwick asked him concerning the ability of the vessel to make it to South America, and other inquiries about his knowledge of extradition laws. At the same time, a concierge at the hotel where Ludwick stayed also became suspicious, Spota said.
Separately, the concierge and the sailing instructor each contacted authorities in New York about their suspicions. They apparently found from Internet searches of Ludwick that he had pending criminal charges against him, prosecutors said.
Authorities on Long Island and the U.S. Marshals Service then tracked Ludwick's movements off his cellphone. He traveled from Puerto Rico to Miami to Connecticut and eventually to his home in Sag Harbor, New York, where he was arrested Thursday.