FBI: Fugitive could be hiding among Mormons

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 4:30 PM

Michael McFall

SALT LAKE CITY -- A former Mormon missionary is on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list in the shooting death of an armored car guard in 2004. The FBI suspects that he could be hiding among Mormons unaware of his status.

In 2004, police allege, after a lavish life of parties and expensive cars, Jason Derek Brown shot armored-car guard Robert Keith Palomares in the head, killing him, outside a movie theater in a Phoenix suburb, then fled on a bicycle with $56,000 in cash.

"With the commonness of his name and how he looks, like a surfer dude in California, we’ve had more tips (about this) fugitive than any other on ’America’s Most Wanted,’ said Lance Leising, the lead FBI agent on the case. "It’s caused us to chase leads all around the world."

Leising said that Brown is good at lying and convincing people that he’s someone else and could be taking advantage of a gullible Mormon’s philanthropy. His ability to blend in is one reason Brown’s on the Top 10 Most Wanted, Leising said.

Phoenix Police Detective Paul Dalton won’t divulge much about his department’s strategies to find Brown. But it’s going to be "outside-of-the-box" thinking that takes Brown off the FBI list, he said.

Two weeks before the crime, Brown, now 43, bought a .45-caliber Glock semiautomatic handgun and expensive high-powered rounds -- the same gun and ammo that killed Palomares -- and took a shooting class from W. Clark Aposhian, now chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council.

Aposhian remembers Brown. The photo that the FBI uses for the wanted poster was the one Aposhian took while Brown was earning a concealed weapons permit.

Brown did not know how to handle a pistol, Aposhian recalled. But by the end of the four-hour class, Brown had honed his accuracy to a small cluster on the targets, hitting within about an inch and a half of the intended spot. He bought a gun with ammunition and walked out the door.

On Nov. 29, 2004, Brown didn’t miss, police say.

That morning, Palomares, 24, arrived in front of the Arizona movie theater at an outdoor mall in a Dunbar armored car. Investigators believe Brown made routine stops in the mall as well, sitting in the parking lot timing the arrival of the armored car and stopping by a mall coffee shop where he asked a barista about the vehicle.

Brown waited for the courier to leave the AMC theater with its Thanksgiving weekend box office. As Palomares exited the theater with the bag full of money, police suspect Brown, dressed in all black with a hood, walked up to him and shot him five times in the head. Brown then fled with the loot to a back alley, where he had stashed his getaway mountain bike.

The day before the murder, Brown practiced shooting and hit a man’s vehicle with the same type of top-of-the-line bullets that killed the guard. He left his name with the vehicle owner.

Police believe after Brown committed the murder he fled on a bicycle that he later ditched on the side of the road, but he failed to wipe it clean of fingerprints, which were already on record from when he bought a gun earlier that month.

In the past few years, officers and FBI agents have confronted at least six men on suspicion that they were Brown. But they were a lot of look-alikes. Twice tips have led them to a body double for movie star Sean Penn, with whom Brown bears a resemblance.

Brown, an avid golfer, snowboarder, skier and dirt biker, was used to a certain level of excitement and pleasure. According to the FBI, Brown lived a lavish life of frequenting nightclubs and showing off his high-priced cars, boats and other toys. He enjoyed being the center of attention.

FBI Special Agent Manuel Johnson once said the violent murder isn’t normal for someone with Brown’s background. The same man who once appeared on the same list as Osama bin Laden served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in France. Brown later earned a master’s degree in international business. He started two businesses, Toys Unlimited and On the Doorstep Advertising, in Salt Lake City.

But a lot of it was appearances, Leising said, describing Brown as a "$30,000 millionaire." His Salt Lake City businesses were storefront scams, Leising said, and he suspects Brown ran check and bank fraud scams for years to finance his self-image.

Dalton suspects that at some point, Brown was running low on money.

"He wanted this lifestyle and suddenly it stopped. So bam," Dalton said, he robbed and killed a man.

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com)

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