Secrets and Crimes

Four years after hed been convicted of murder in Belgium, Jean-FranCois Buslik was a pilot and a family man living quietly in North Palm Beach. Then justice came calling.

In Palm Beach County, in his quiet slice of suburbia, Buslik was always careful not to draw attention to himself. He drove a white Ford Escort station wagon, separated his recyclables, and kept his past, like his revolver, hidden away. His low-key lifestyle, though, would not save him from the U.S. Marshals.

At 4 a.m. last Thursday, Deputy Marshal Lou Vega and four colleagues crept through the predawn shadows along Lagoon Drive in North Palm Beach. The request for a "discreet investigation" had arrived from Interpol in late February, prompting several weeks of surveillance. The Marshals had watched Buslik at his home, trailed him to the airport, and snapped photos using a camera with a long lens. The images were sent via electronic mail to Belgium, where they were shown to Bouhouche and Beijer, who confirmed Buslik's identity. The bureaucratic trail for clearance was a circuitous one. After identification was confirmed by the attorney general of Brussels, the following agencies had to be notified: the Belgian Ministry of Justice; the Belgian Foreign Ministry; the Belgian Embassy in Washington, D.C.; the U.S. State Department; and the U.S. Justice Department. Finally, last week, the go-ahead reached Lou Vega in West Palm Beach.

"We were told to be careful," says Vega. "They said we were dealing with a cop killer."

His squad arrived early on April 15 to scope out the neighborhood and make sure Buslik wasn't waiting for them. After sweeping the perimeter of 728 Lagoon Dr., the Marshals split up. Vega and another deputy stationed themselves in a blind spot along the right side of the house. Two others eyeballed the front door from a hiding place across the street. In the canal behind the house, officers watched the back yard from the deck of a small boat. At about 8 a.m., in shorts and sandals, Buslik opened the front door, walked outside, took a deep breath of fresh air and then strode back up the driveway, pausing in the open doorway in a sleep-encrusted daze. Vega and the others rushed the door, grabbed their fugitive, and slapped on the handcuffs. "We are placing you under arrest for crimes committed in Belgium in 1981 and 1982," Vega told Buslik. His wife and stepdaughter broke into tears.

"I thought there was something strange going on," Diane Somerville told Vega as Marshals searched the house for armed accomplices. "A reporter has been calling here saying all sorts of things about my husband."

In a closet a few feet from the front door, deputies found a Remington semiautomatic rifle. Under Buslik's mattress was a 9 mm Glock semiautomatic handgun. In the garage were hundreds of bullets, two more revolvers, and an olive green military munitions box containing 200 machine-gun rounds.

Buslik was booked into the Palm Beach County Jail awaiting transfer to the Federal Detention Center in Miami. There he will remain until a formal extradition request replaces the provisionary request currently on file. The Belgian judiciary has 75 days to file the request along with a translated summary of the charges facing Buslik. In that time Buslik will remain in custody without any possibility of bail. He no doubt will fight extradition through both his American lawyer, Martha Eskuchen, and his Belgian lawyer, Jean-Paul Dumont, who plans to be in Miami within the next few weeks.

Although the Brussels attorney general blames Buslik's years of freedom on a simple "administrative error," before Buslik's arrest many other theories had circulated in Belgium to explain his absence. Some reporters (and a few lawyers) were under the false impression that Buslik was protected because he is an American citizen. In fact Buslik does carry an American passport, which means that, although the Immigration and Naturalization Service could never have deported him, he was always eligible for extradition to Belgium. Although some countries, including France and Belgium, don't extradite their own citizens, the U.S. does.

Another scenario touted in the Belgian press is that Buslik was being protected by either the American or Belgian government. Though no evidence supporting that assertion has so far emerged, even investigators like Jean-Pierre Doraene don't dismiss it out of hand.

Whatever the reason he eluded capture for so long -- bureaucratic bumbling or deliberate sabotage -- in the last few months something prompted the Belgian authorities to take action to quash the embarrassment his freedom was fast becoming.

Contact Jay Cheshes at his e-mail address:

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