A BRITISH man who spent almost 20 years as a fugitive in the US has been jailed for five years after admitting the theft of a security van containing £1.2 million.
Eddie Maher – known as “Fast Eddie” – had been wanted by Suffolk Police after the Securicor van he was driving disappeared from outside a Lloyds Bank in Felixstowe, on 22 January, 1993.
The 57-year-old, originally from Essex, was arrested by US authorities in February last year.
He had been due to stand trial for theft after being deported to the UK but yesterday changed his plea to guilty.
Jailing him at Southwark Crown Court, Mr Justice Nicol said: “You made a very substantial gain even if, as you say, the money has now gone.”
Mr Justice Nicol added that the crime represented a “very significant breach of trust”.
He said: “The temptation to commit the offence must have been too great. It will be for confiscation proceedings which will follow in due course to decide quite how much your benefit was from this theft.
“You told the authorities after your arrest that you only received £40,000. Your wife has said it was about £200,000.”
Prosecutors also revealed they were still looking to trace three possible accomplices. They include Maher’s brother Michael and two acquaintances, Michael Sulsh and Terrence Bender.
Outlining the case, prosecutor Richard Southern QC said: “We believe the defendant received assistance from people in this country in the months after the offence.”
Maher’s life unravelled when Jessica King, the disgruntled ex-wife of his son Lee, contacted US authorities to tell them he was a wanted man.
He was arrested for immigration and firearms offences before being deported to the UK.
His partner, Deborah Brett, and younger son, Mark, sat in court as he was jailed.
Lee King sat on a separate row. His family did not acknowledge him throughout the court appearance.
Maher – who used the false identity of Stephen King while on the run – had intended to fight the allegation on the grounds that he had been forced to commit the crime after racking up “significant debts”.
But Suffolk Police and the Crown Prosecution Service built up evidence proving that the former soldier and firefighter had profited to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds.
After his conviction, detectives revealed details of series of property investments which they say he funded from the proceeds of the crime.
This included a house in Colorado bought with $120,000 cash six months after the theft.
Later, Maher built a ranch on 80 acres of land in Colorado before moving around various US states. At the time of his arrest in February last year, he was working as a cable engineer in Missouri.
In his plea of mitigation on behalf of Maher, David Nathan QC said: “An extraordinary aspect of this case is Mr Maher’s daughter-in-law had originally been the partner of his son Lee’s best friend.
“Lee won a lot of money on the lottery and she left her partner to marry Lee. When the money ran out, she did a little research on Google on the name Maher and found out he was wanted for the theft back in 1993. She heard that there was a reward and she went to the federal authorities.”
Speaking after the case, Detective Inspector David Giles, from Suffolk Police, said: “Over the years Edward Maher has almost been portrayed as a Robin Hood character, someone who stole from a bank, where no-one was injured.
“Maher took on a position of significant trust working for a security company, a position he abused, resulting in the theft over £1 million.”