Prosecutors Say They Are Continuing To Investigate Even Though Jorge Lugo Has Vanished.
Where is Jorge Lugo - last seen showing his scratches for the cameras after NBA star Charles Barkley tossed him through a plate-glass window?
He has vanished since that October brawl at Orlando's Church Street Station, raising questions about whether the Houston Rockets forward can be prosecuted without a victim to testify.
The disappearance, which follows an out-of-court settlement with the basketball player, also is prompting debate on radio and at office water coolers about whether the rich and famous have different rules than the rest of society.
''It's not that the judge or the prosecutor is going to say he's Charles Barkley, we need to stay away from it,'' said Ron Akers, director of the University of Florida's Center for Justice in Criminology and Law.
''But when a person has money and power they have options that other people don't have.''
The Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office is expected to decide next week whether to file formal charges against Barkley in the Oct. 26 incident. Police also have recommended a battery charge against Lugo, a 20-year-old Mexican arrested 14 times in Florida in the past two years.
Andrea Black, president of the Central Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, said she's anxious to see what happens. To her, there's no doubt there's a double standard in the legal system for the haves and have-nots.
A poor person, she said, would have no way to solve a dispute by settling with the victim.
''You want to ask, if my client were Joe Smith - without Charles Barkley's name and money - would he be treated differently?'' Black said. ''I suspect the answer would be yes.''
But Tracy Sutherland, a state attorney's spokeswoman, said concern about whether formal charges will be filed is premature. She said investigators are sorting through varying statements by witnesses to determine how to proceed.
Whether the victim cooperates is only a small part of the decision, she said.
''We would prefer to have the victim here, but we do go forward in cases without the victim. We go forward with homicide cases all the time,'' she said.
Orlando police officers, including one who saw the brawl, insist the case is clear-cut.
Police arrested Barkley on charges of aggravated battery and resisting arrest without violence. He claims he was provoked after Lugo threw a glass of ice at one of his friends in the bar.
Since then, according to Lugo's lawyer, he has reached a settlement with Barkley and signed a statement saying he doesn't want the athlete prosecuted.
''I haven't seen him since,'' said Lugo's attorney, Mark NeJame, who refuses to say whether Barkley paid his client money.
Barkley, who has admitted throwing Lugo, denies there has been a settlement. His lawyer in the criminal matter, Kirk Kirkconnell, insisted his client has no power to make a person disappear.
''Mr. Barkley does not control anybody. If he has disappeared, he's disappeared,'' Kirkconnell said.
The Barkley case might not be the only reason for Lugo to keep a low profile. U.S. Border Patrol agents say he entered the country illegally and could be deported to Mexico - if they find him.
NeJame said there is no reason to think that Lugo's settlement with Barkley has thwarted justice. He said his client has gotten the justice he wanted.
''He's really had a hard life. He's making an effort to turn his life around,'' NeJame said.
Before colliding with Barkley at Church Street Station, Lugo spent the past two years in South and Central Florida running from and into the law, records show.
In Miami, where he gave his name as Umaro Marques, he served 20 days in jail for aggravated assault and resisting arrest stemming from incidents in May and June 1996.
He has been arrested 10 times in Orlando, starting in July 1996. In each instance, police say, he gave sketchy and inaccurate personal information to officers.
His aliases here have included ''Pancho Villa,'' the name of a legendary Mexican bandit. Lugo once told officers he left his U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service ''green card'' in Mexico.
Since July 1996, charges against Lugo have included sleeping in a chair at Lake Eola, camping under an Interstate 4 overpass and possessing crack cocaine. He served several months in jail in mid-1996 after failing to appear in court on the drug charge.
Between December 1996 and this May, he was arrested four times on shoplifting charges, one involving a six-pack of beer. In October, he was charged twice with drinking in public.
Immigration records show Lugo obtained a temporary border crossing card in Del Rio, Texas, to enter the United States on Aug. 8, 1988. That permit is good for only a few days to let Mexicans make local visits or consult doctors.
''He's here illegally, and we're going to pick him up,'' said Rick Greenier, head of the Border Patrol's Orlando office. ''He's an alien with a criminal record - and that's enough to set him up for a formal deportation.''
Source: Orlando Sentinel