Couple vanish, putting abuse case in limbo

Date: 2005-11-22
Source: sptimes.com

Lori and Tommy Allain, whose foster daughter was found near death, elude police since failing to show for trial.

By MICHAEL KRUSE

BROOKSVILLE - Lori and Arthur "Tommy" Allain failed to show for trial Oct. 25 on charges of starving their 10-year-old foster daughter, who weighed 29 pounds and faced "imminent death" when authorities intervened.

Their 23-year-old daughter answered her home phone that trial day and said her parents were going to turn themselves in.

When?

"I really don't know," Kristen Staab told a reporter.

A month later, the Allains are still on the lam, their four biological sons are absent from school and the case has become the undercurrent of conversation in Hernando County.

Authorities are knocking on doors, lawyers are talking about it away from the courthouse, and the Allains' two daughters, who live in nearby Spring Hill, are becoming a source of frustration for investigators.

Lori Allain has said only two things since late October.

She left a message on the cell phone of a St. Petersburg Times reporter at 12:32 a.m. one night just before the start of the trial: "Get up off my family. Got it? And you can quote me on that."

Then she told a Tampa Tribune reporter two weeks ago she didn't think the couple could get a fair trial in Hernando.

In published reports, Staab has set three demands before her parents will appear: a different jurisdiction for the trial; an appointed criminal attorney for her husband, who hasn't been charged in the case; and a guarantee from the state that the four boys will be placed in the care of relatives.

The venue of any trial ultimately is up to a judge. Ditto for the question of custody. The sheriff, meanwhile, has said his office isn't going to negotiate.

"Nope," Richard Nugent said. "There is no negotiation. They need to either turn themselves in or get arrested. That's it."

All of this started on June 18, 2004, when the Allains were arrested and charged with felony child neglect and aggravated child abuse.

The foster daughter was kept behind a double-locked door in a stinky, messy mobile home in desolate northwest Hernando, with no bed, no furniture and nothing to do, and was forced to go to the bathroom on the floor or in a paint bucket, authorities said.

When she was found, she was dehydrated, malnourished and weighed 60 pounds less than the norm for her age. She was "at risk of imminent death," a Department of Children and Families attorney said later.

Tommy Allain is a 47-year-old truck driver.

Lori Allain, 49, is on disability because of a 1977 motorcycle wreck and has a tattoo on her chest that says "Only God Can Judge Me."

They now face a minimum of more than eight years in state prison if they're found guilty and could get as many as 45. They were let out of the Hernando County Jail after posting $10,000 apiece.

After 16 months and 12 pretrial hearings, the trial date was set for Oct. 24 - then delayed a day because of the effects of Hurricane Wilma. Friends of the Allains have said they thought it was going to be rescheduled rather than just pushed back 24 hours. Even their lawyer said that at first.

"I just think that they have misunderstood," Elliott Ambrose said outside the courtroom that morning. "I don't think there was any intentional conduct on their part."

Circuit Judge Jack Springstead issued a warrant for arrest - this time with no bail.

Mark Young, a Pasco County man who is a close friend of the Allains and has been subpoenaed to testify, said that nobody called him to let him know about the delay of only one day and that nobody called the Allains, either.

"It's almost like they were set up for this," he told the Times when reached on his cell phone an hour or so after Springstead issued the warrant.

The Sheriff's Office put the Allains on the top of their "most wanted" list the next morning.

Ambrose's secretary talked to Lori Allain within the first hour after it became clear the couple wasn't going to show. Since then: nothing.

There was never any public discussion of a change of venue, and trials don't get moved a lot. The current Carlie Brucia trial was not moved out of Sarasota. The Sami Al-Arian trial stayed in Tampa.

The Allains almost certainly will be charged with felony failure to appear if, and when, they show up. They also could be charged with some form of additional neglect charges because they've kept the boys - ages 12 to 16 - out of school for so long.

For now, though, they're still being sought.

The Sheriff's Office has two warrants detectives. Both of them are working on the Allain case "as much as they can," Capt. Alan Arick said.

"I'm not trying to minimize the seriousness of this case. This is a very serious case to us, and we want to arrest them as soon as possible, but I can't tell you we're on the verge of arresting them."

The Sheriff's Office is keeping in touch with friends and family members who might know something.

The daughters who live on their own on different sides of Spring Hill - Tiffany Staab, who's 27, and Kristen Staab - have told detectives they have no idea where their folks are hiding.

"They have not been helpful at all," Nugent said.

The game goes on.

"There is an old saying: Once you are in a hole, you should stop digging," longtime Brooksville lawyer Jimmy Brown said earlier this week. "Apparently they haven't heard that saying. Or they don't believe it."

"All they're doing," Sheriff Nugent said, "is delaying the inevitable, which is that they're going to have to face the charges. And if I was innocent, I would want to come back and face the charges and make the state prove it."

--Times researchers Caryn Baird and Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or 352 848-1434.

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