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Fugitive executive seen in drag

The Lakeland man, wanted on stock fraud charges, was spotted in New Mexico in "dowdy women's clothing."

A fugitive from Lakeland wanted for selling investors $21-million in unregistered securities has been spotted in New Mexico, where he was dressed as and using the name of a woman.

Karl Rehberg, 56-year-old founder of Lakeland-based NOPEC Corp., has been on the run from federal investigators for a year. Rehberg is wanted in connection with selling $21-million in illegal stock in the company to 2,800 investors in Florida and Georgia

An apartment manager in Albuquerque, N.M., said Rehberg was going by the name of Peggy Helms. She described the 6-foot, 225-pound Rehberg as "either a very ugly female or a linebacker with laryngitis," according to the FBI office in Lakeland.

Rehberg was dressed in "dowdy women's clothing, orthopedic shoes and a grayish-blond little old lady wig," she told the FBI.

Rehberg disappeared last year after negotiating a plea bargain with the U.S. Attorney's office in Tampa and learning that any deal would include a prison sentence. FBI agents have since traced the path of Rehberg and his wife, Helen, to Auburndale, then to Michigan and now the Southwest. There are indications that the pair may have gone to Phoenix after leaving Albuquerque.

NOPEC is an eight-year-old research and development company that is trying to develop alternative fuels. Its main process turns grease to gas by transforming french fry oil into bio-diesel fuel.

Shareholders took control of the company after Rehberg disappeared. But the company, which has annual revenues of about $600,000, has been profitable for only one month in its history. The market for bio-diesel fuel has been hurt by pricing and delays in federal mandates for alternative fuels, said Max Lowe, who was hired as president of NOPEC after Rehberg's legal troubles began.

_ Information from the Lakeland Ledger was used in this report.