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Bogus fax gets man out of jail, briefly

A Pennsylvania man whose girlfriend got him released from the county lockup by faxing a bogus letter saying he had been pardoned nearly got away with it.

Gregory Williamson walked out of jail last week, and officials didn't discover the hoax until the next day, when Pennsylvania authorities arrived to pick him up.

Jails across the state were put on alert as a result of the letter hoax, Steve Emerson, an agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said Tuesday.

An attempt to break out his former cellmate in a similar fashion landed Williamson, 35, back in jail.

Williamson was awaiting transport back to Pennsylvania to face probation violation charges when Lee County jail clerks received a fax from what appeared to be the Pennsylvania governor's office, Emerson said.

Complete with official seal and letterhead, the letter said Williamson was pardoned and asked that he be released. It was followed by letters supposedly from the Pennsylvania attorney general's office and a local sheriff's office giving permission for Williamson's release, Emerson said.

"They showed me the letter, and it certainly looked official," he said. "They didn't know this wasn't the way these things are handled."

But jail officials were suspicious when they received another fax Friday _ this time purportedly from Gov. Lawton Chiles' office, asking to free James Couts, 23, Williamson's former cellmate. They called Chiles' office and were told no such fax was sent and that pardons are handled more formally.

Williamson and his girlfriend, Kim Starke, 32, were arrested Friday at her Fort Myers apartment.

Emerson said Ms. Starke was a former printing company production manager, and investigators found computer discs containing official seals for state offices across the country in her apartment.

Williamson and Couts were being held Tuesday on $50,000 bail. Starke was out on supervised release, the Lee County Jail said.