SEATTLE – The 20-year-old "Barefoot Bandit," whose daring two-year run from the law in stolen boats, cars and planes earned him international notoriety, pleaded not guilty to a new indictment in federal court Thursday, even as his attorney indicated a deal with the government to resolve the case is nearly complete.
Colton Harris-Moore entered the courtroom in tan prison garb and greeted lawyer John Henry Browne with a broad smile. He told the judge "good morning" before Assistant U.S. Attorney Darwin Roberts recited the charges against him.
The lawyers previously expected to have a plea deal complete by the end of last month. But they are primarily hung up on whether Harris-Moore will be allowed to participate in book or movie deals, with all proceeds being used to repay victims, Browne said.
Harris-Moore's restitution will total about $1.3 million, Browne said, and movie or book deals could cover most or all of it. He said federal prosecutors have expressed reluctance in recent days to let Harris-Moore sell his story because it could compound the publicity he's received. But he said talks on the issue are progressing.
The U.S. attorney's office in Seattle does not discuss plea negotiations, and Roberts declined to comment after the arraignment.
"I have a problem with the U.S. government telling anybody they can't tell their story," Browne said.
Browne doesn't dispute the allegations against his client. He has long maintained that Harris-Moore, who earned the "Barefoot Bandit" moniker by committing some of his crimes without shoes, has no interest in profiting from his tale but would be interested in selling his story if it meant his victims could be repaid.
Many of the losses sustained by burglary or theft victims were covered by insurance companies, which could be in line for a share of publicity deal proceeds.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys have agreed to a sentencing range, Browne said, but he said he was prohibited from divulging what the range is.
A new indictment returned last month added bank burglary to the list of federal charges against Harris-Moore. His other charges include interstate transportation of a stolen plane, gun, and boat; being a fugitive in possession of a firearm; and piloting an aircraft without a valid airman's certificate.
The new indictment also contains language requiring Harris-Moore to forfeit "any and all intellectual property or other proprietary rights belonging to the defendant" based on his publication or dissemination of his tale.
The federal charges stem from a spate of crimes in late 2009 and early 2010, when Harris-Moore is accused of flying a stolen plane from Anacortes, in northwestern Washington, to the San Juan Islands. Authorities say he then stole a pistol in eastern British Columbia and took a plane from a hangar in Idaho, where investigators found bare footprints on the floor and wall. That plane crashed near Granite Falls, Wash., after it ran out of fuel, prosecutors say.
He made his way to Oregon in a 32-foot boat stolen in southwestern Washington — stopping first to leave $100 at an animal shelter in Raymond, Wash.
From Oregon, authorities said, Harris-Moore hopscotched his way across the United States, frequently stealing cars from parking lots at small airports, until he made it to Indiana, where he stole another plane and made for the Bahamas. He was captured by Bahamian police at gunpoint in a stolen boat.
In all, Harris-Moore is suspected of more than 70 crimes across nine states.
The agreement lawyers are negotiating tentatively calls for Harris-Moore to plead guilty once in federal court, where he would also admit responsibility for all crimes he committed in other states, and once in Island County Superior Court, where he would admit to all of his crimes in Washington state jurisdictions.
Upon conviction, Harris-Moore is expected to begin serving time in state prison.
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