A couple lost, a doctor found, but all still fugitives
By MICHAEL KRUSE
Everyone was there that day in late October in Courtroom D. Lawyers, prosecutors, Circuit Judge Jack Springstead, a handful of folks with pens and pads and television cameras - everyone, that is, except Lori and Arthur "Tommy" Allain, who were set to stand trial on charges of child abuse and neglect. Springstead issued a warrant for their arrest.
Dr. A. Hussam Armashi was supposed to be in court on Aug. 5 for a pretrial hearing on charges that he groped a female patient - again. He didn't show. Springstead issued an arrest warrant.
Now, as 2005 clicks to 2006, the Allains are still gone.
So is Armashi.
Two of the biggest recent criminal cases in Hernando County are now in total limbo - in the form of mug shots on the sheriff's "most wanted" list.
And in a weird way, the longer they're, well, not here, the juicier and more pressing these stories become.
"It's a game," sheriff's Detective James Bettineschi said a week after the Allains fled. "And usually we end up winning."
So far, though, these games are draws - at best.
The Allains originally were arrested June 18, 2004. They were charged with keeping their 10-year-old foster daughter locked in the rear room of a stinky trailer and starving her until she was dehydrated, malnourished, weighed 29 pounds and was "at risk of imminent death," in the words of an attorney for the state Department of Children and Families.
In the courtroom on Oct. 25, 9 a.m. became 9:10, and 9:10 became 9:20, and Sherry Byerly, the lead prosecutor, asked Springstead for recommitment orders. The Allains' attorneys didn't argue.
Since then, authorities have been "actively looking" for them and "following up on any and all leads," according to Deputy Donna Black, the sheriff's spokeswoman.
They hadn't been heard from in almost two months until Thursday, when Lori Allain called the St. Petersburg Times and said she wanted Springstead off her case, among other things, in a conversation that lasted not quite half an hour.
"All they're doing is delaying the inevitable, which is that they're going to have to face the charges," Sheriff Richard Nugent said in mid November, "and if I was innocent, I would want to come back and face the charges and make the state prove it.
"But guilty people run."
A couple from Oregon wanted for grand theft managed to disappear for almost a year, with two children, too, before they were found in the Tampa area.
Armashi, meanwhile, was arrested in February after the 58-year-old pain doctor allegedly gave a patient a heavy dose of medication and then lifted her shirt and bra and pulled down her pants and panties. The woman woke up and ripped the IV from her arm and fled. It was the fourth time in five years Armashi had been accused of this sort of thing.
The major difference between Armashi and the Allains, of course, is that everybody knows where he is. Armashi is in his native Damascus, Syria, where he is apparently caring for his sick mother. His lawyers have told him he needs to come back - but one of them, Jimmy Brown of Brooksville, admitted in August that the chances of that happening "are like a snowball's chance in hell."
Armashi's home phone number has been disconnected. His house in the pricey Lake in the Woods community looks abandoned. It has been on the market.
The United States has no extradition treaties with Syria. Armashi can stay away for pretty much as long as he wants.
With the Allains, it's a matter of when, not if, authorities keep saying. They will be found. They will screw up.
They have not.
Thanksgiving came and went.
Christmas came and went.
New Year's came and went.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report, which includes information from the Oregonian, the Miami Herald and the Minneapolis Star Tribune.