Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Floridian charged in clownish holdup

Cops try to figure out why he came here

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A tattooed, 230-pound Florida fugitive ends up in one of the coldest major cities on the planet just days before Christmas and allegedly robs a bank while dressed as a busty female clown.

It sounds like something straight out of a Quentin Tarantino movie, but the strange story of Rondell McGarrett Johnson is very real.

Johnson, 39, was arrested earlier this week after allegedly holding up the Crosstown Civic Credit Union in the 1500 block of Regent Avenue West.

The robber had a handgun and wore the bizarre disguise, which included a clown mask, pink hair, a polka-dot shirt and fake breasts.

Johnson is in custody at the Winnipeg Remand Centre, charged with robbery with a firearm, wearing a disguise with intent to commit a crime and public mischief.

The case has made national headlines because of the unusual circumstances. New details have emerged that make it even more surreal.

Police and justice sources tell the Free Press the accused is no stranger to the law or altering his identity. Johnson is currently wanted on a warrant for violation of his parole by authorities in Colorado and has a lengthy rap sheet.

He is an American citizen, born and raised in Pensacola, Fla., who has used a number of aliases, including Buster Johnson and Derrick Ray Bodie.

Johnson has said little since his arrest following a foot chase Tuesday afternoon in which he allegedly chucked parts of his costume but was tracked down by officers and the K-9 unit near the credit union. It's alleged he was trying to hide the stolen loot in a snowbank when he was caught.

He declined a request for an interview Thursday in the remand centre. "He hates it here, says it's too cold," said a justice source who has dealt with Johnson this week.

Some of the questions investigators are trying to answer is how Johnson got into Canada, when he arrived and why he came to Winnipeg. At this point, there is no known Canadian connection.

"He claims he crossed into the country on foot by sneaking across the border through Minnesota," a justice source said Thursday.

That information has triggered an ongoing investigation by Canada Border Services. Winnipeg police are also working with U.S. agencies as they piece together Johnson's past.

Court records show he was first sentenced in 1994 for cocaine trafficking in Duval County, Fla. He was given five years in prison but was granted early release in 1997.

He was back in custody in 2004 after another arrest for selling drugs. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years behind bars, serving just over two.

He was arrested a third time in 2008, although the charge isn't clear on his court records. He spent five months in custody before being released.

Sources couldn't say Thursday what charges his Colorado parole violation stems from. Colorado officials have been in touch with remand centre staff, asking for updates on Johnson's status.

His past indicates an issue with drugs, which experts say is often a motivator for robberies. But why someone on the run from U.S. authorities would head north isn't clear, although there have been a handful of cases in recent Manitoba history where fugitives did so in the belief they'd get softer treatment in the Canadian justice system.

In Johnson's case, he will remain in custody in Winnipeg at least over Christmas.

A Legal Aid lawyer has been assigned to represent him and appeared in court Thursday, adjourning his case until Dec. 27. No bail hearing is scheduled.

Federal Crown prosecutor Ian Mahon said his office has yet to be contacted by federal or U.S. government officials about possible extradition of Johnson.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 21, 2012 A5

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