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Ala. policeman feared missing arrested in Vegas

Eds: UPDATES headline, story with police saying fake abduction suspected from start, romantic relationship, more money may be missing, fugitive officer under financial pressure.

Ala. cop feared missing arrested

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) – An all-out search for a missing Alabama organized crime specialist led to Las Vegas, where the decorated officer was arrested and accused of staging his disappearance to cover up the theft of at least $2,500 from his department, authorities said Tuesday.

Federal marshals caught up with Sgt. Faron White in a Hampton Inn hotel lobby Monday night, three days after he was last seen working late in his Decatur office. The 48-year-old has been charged with theft. Also arrested was 29-year-old Sarah Richardson, who authorities say helped White get to Las Vegas by accompanying him to Nashville to catch a flight to Nevada. Richardson was a volunteer who had been helping White’s unit and had apparently developed a romantic relationship with the officer, said Decatur Police Chief Ken Collier.

White’s family reported him missing Saturday morning after he didn’t return from work Friday. Detectives found evidence of a struggle in his office, and for days, search crews scoured areas around the Tennessee River, looking for signs of Decatur’s 2007 officer of the year.

But Collier said detectives suspected it was all a ruse.

“The investigators involved didn’t fall off the pumpkin truck last week. They sensed something was wrong early on,” he said.

He said White had been under a lot of pressure – an ill father, unexpected household debt – and had been making trips to a casino in Tunica, Miss.

Collier said the $2,500 was confiscated drug money taken from an office safe and that several thousand dollars may be missing when it is finally tallied.

The arrest was all the talk at a convenience store down a twisting, two-lane road from White’s home in Falkville, south of Decatur in northern Alabama.

“I’ve never heard anything bad about him until this,” said Doug Farr.

Like others, Farr couldn’t understand why a respected, ranking police officer would allegedly stage his own disappearance seemingly for $2,500.

“It doesn’t make sense. There’s something more involved than that,” said Farr.

White is married with three children. His wife, Shelly, declined comment Tuesday.

Collier said the family had “no idea what had happened. They had been through several stressful days.”

Richardson was arrested at her home in Decatur and is being held on $2,500 bond, charged with hindering prosecution.

White led the Decatur’s organized crime unit and the American Legion named him Decatur’s officer of the year for 2007.

He joined the Decatur Police Department in November 1986, working in the jail before becoming a police officer. The Legion noted when it honored White that his unit was responsible for 354 arrests and seizing more than $100,000 worth of cash, weapons and property from drug dealers.

Federal marshals in Las Vegas said White was being held as a fugitive without bail pending an extradition hearing Thursday. A police spokeswoman said it was not immediately clear if White had a lawyer.

Richardson was in the Decatur city jail Tuesday and there was no indication she had a lawyer. Additional charges are possible against both.

Collier said Richardson had been a volunteer with the police department about a decade and recently was helping White’s unit build a database of suspected methamphetamine dealers and labs.

Roxanna Lea Irwin, chief deputy U.S. Marshal in Las Vegas, said she did not know what White was doing in Nevada or how long he had been in Las Vegas.

“This is another example of someone feeling they can hide in Las Vegas,” Irwin said, “but we’re able to locate them working together with our local partners.”

Irwin said she thought investigators learned where White was after confronting Richardson in Decatur. White didn’t put up a struggle.

“We actually got him pretty quickly,” Irwin said.

Associated Press writer Ken Ritter in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

AP-ES-01-06-09 1742EST

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