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CAPTURING KOPP DOGGED WORK LED TO ARRESTS

CAPTURING KOPP DOGGED WORK LED TO ARRESTS

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James Charles Kopp lived a Spartan life in Ireland as a fugitive in the Oct. 23, 1998, slaying of Dr. Barnett A. Slepian, but it was the Internet and trans-Atlantic phone calls that helped FBI agents track him to a small village in northwest France on Thursday morning.

Kopp, 46, looking thinner and more clean-cut than he does in the FBI's 10 Most Wanted posters, was arrested by French authorities in Dinan, a village of about 14,000 in France's Brittany region. French authorities are holding him while he awaits extradition to Buffalo for trial in Slepian's murder.

The fierce anti-abortion foe, known as "Atomic Dog" by the fringe of the abortion protest movement, was caught after FBI agents monitored an exchange of phone calls and e-mail messages on Yahoo! between Kopp and two anti-abortion radicals in Brooklyn, authorities said.

FBI agents also planted listening devices in the Brooklyn apartment and used what are called "sneak and peek" warrants to enter the flat, photograph evidence of Kopp's correspondence and then sneak out before the two returned.

Kopp's two correspondents sent money to him in France, the FBI said, and were helping plan his return to the United States.

Buffalo FBI agents tracking Kopp alerted French police, who arrested him at a post office in Dinan, about 200 miles west of Paris, as he picked up a package with $300 in it, the FBI said.

Shortly afterward, FBI agents in New York City arrested Dennis Malvasi, 51, and Loretta Marra, 37, and charged them with aiding a fugitive. Malvasi is a two-time convicted abortion clinic firebomber; Marra served a two-month jail term with Kopp for a February 1990 Vermont abortion protest and was arrested with him two years later in Italy.

Authorities say they will seek Kopp's extradition on both state and federal charges. A gunman, using a high-powered rifle and hiding in woods behind Slepian's East Amherst home, killed the 52-year-old abortion provider as he warmed a bowl of soup in his kitchen.

"I think it is important to acknowledge the killing of Barnett Slepian was not a permissible ideological act," U.S. Attorney Denise E. O'Donnell said, "but a coldblooded murder."

Kopp was charged with second-degree murder by an Erie County grand jury, a charge that carries a life prison term. But he faces the death penalty if convicted in federal court, where he is charged with using deadly force to prevent Slepian from providing abortions and using a firearm to commit a crime of violence.

Law enforcement pursuit

Law enforcement officials were jubilant after Kopp's arrest, high-fiving one another when the news came from France on Thursday morning that, after two years of being ever so close, they had finally captured Kopp.

"This terrorist is in custody," Maj. Michael McManus of the State Police said at a news conference in the Buffalo FBI office, announcing Kopp's arrest. "We're very happy it turned out the way it did."

"The Buffalo office was way behind him at first," said Hardrick Crawford Jr., acting special agent in charge. "But they just kept closing the gap, getting closer and closer and closer."

"I can't help, as I look out at this legion of cameras and people, but think of a year and a half ago, when Kopp was charged," District Attorney Frank J. Clark said. "Everyone then said, 'We're glad you charged him, but will you catch him?' "

"And to a person, the law enforcement community said yes," Clark said. "Today is the proof of the pudding."

The manhunt initially embarrassed the FBI after Kopp seemed to disappear without a trace Nov. 3, 1998, the day before a warrant was issued for his questioning in the Slepian murder.

Kopp's abandoned car was found the following month in the parking lot at Newark International Airport in New Jersey.

And investigators seemed further embarrassed when they found the murder weapon buried in the woods behind Slepian's home in April 1999, six months after the slaying.

But despite various reports of his being seen throughout the world, and his addition to the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List, Kopp seemed to have disappeared.

The FBI, however, said its agents never stopped looking. Agents Joel Mercer and John P. Culhane Jr. in Buffalo, aided at times by hundreds of agents throughout the country, hunted Kopp full time since he disappeared.

Fleeing to Europe

Authorities said Kopp hopscotched from New York City to New Jersey to Ireland and finally to France in the 2 1/2 years since the sniper attack.

"Trying to track him down was like playing a big game of 'Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?' " said Crawford, who inherited the Kopp search after Bernard Tolbert retired as local FBI chief last month.

"But it was a very serious game, because he is accused of the very serious crime of murder," he said. "Time after time, we would get close to him, and time after time, we would miss him."

The FBI at the time denied an Irish newspaper's report, but now acknowledges that Kopp was in Ireland until March 12. Irish police found him working as a clerk in a Dublin hospital but just missed arresting him.

Kopp's desk at Holles Street Hospital was covered with religious statues and artifacts. "It looked like a shrine," one law enforcement official said.

Agents said Kopp usually stayed at hostels and worked at menial jobs. During his time on the lam, he attended Catholic Mass every day, agents believe, and occasionally visited with priests but did not take part in any anti-abortion protests.

"He lived a very solitary life . . . a low-key existence," said Culhane. "He was staying away from the (pro-life) movement and staying out of the spotlight."

FBI officials got their first break involving Kopp, they said in court papers filed in New York City, by following the movements of Malvasi and Marra in Brooklyn.

Both are veterans of the violent side of abortion protests and came under FBI scrutiny after Slepian's death, authorities said.

Malvasi testified before a federal grand jury in Buffalo on Feb. 10, 1999, the FBI said, but claimed he did not know Kopp. Agents said he took the Fifth Amendment when asked if he knew Loretta Marra.

The FBI said they found the couple living together Oct. 5, 1999, in a Brooklyn apartment building officials said was rented under a false name and used as a safe house.

Guest of honor

Malvasi was one of two guests of honor at the most recent White Rose Banquet, on Jan. 21. The annual dinner in Washington, D.C., is put on by some of the most radical opponents of abortion.

"We celebrate the releases of Dennis Malvasi and Marjorie Reed and expect to enjoy the presence of both ex-cons," an invitation to the dinner said. "Both are finally off probation and free to assemble with Christians without being jailed for parole violations."

But FBI officials say in court papers that Malvasi and Marra at the time were already communicating with Kopp and had been at least since March 2000.

Using what is called a "sneak and peek" court warrant that allowed agents to enter their apartment and photograph evidence without being detected by Malvasi and Marra, agent Michael Osborn said they photographed five letters and a large envelope.

They said the mail was postmarked in Ireland and said Dublin police later found that Kopp had obtained a temporary driver's license in Ireland under a false name.

Obtaining court order

The FBI obtained a court order to intercept oral communications at the Brooklyn apartment -- they declined to be more specific about how they did it -- and, according to court documents, learned that Malvasi and Marra were using a Yahoo! e-mail account.

Agents then got a court order for Yahoo! headquarters in Northern California, they said, and Yahoo! provided copies of the messages sent to and from the Brooklyn account.

In February and this month, Osborne said in an affidavit, agents monitored e-mail messages between the Brooklyn apartment and a person they believed was Kopp in Ireland. They obtained another warrant to eavesdrop on telephone conversations.

On March 5, the FBI said, Malvasi and Marra were overheard talking of "Jim's money" and having to "get it."

"Why am I getting money to you?" the FBI said Malvasi told Marra. "I'm the one who is going to meet him."

Marra agreed, the FBI said.

"You're gonna meet Jim," she said.

The next day, Marra was overheard saying she had to send a message on the Internet.

Two days later, March 8, the FBI said the Internet message sent from Brooklyn was: "What's going on, anyhow? Haven't heard from you in ages. Please let me know how you are."

The FBI said Irish police checking the hospital where they believed Kopp was working scared him off and say Kopp left the country March 12.

"There was a down side and an up side," Crawford, the Buffalo FBI chief, said of Kopp's leaving Ireland just ahead of authorities. "How can we take advantage of the situation? We knew the Irish national police were all over him. He couldn't stay there."

Agents soon learned Kopp had fled to France, they told the court in the Malvasi and Marra case, after another "sneak and peek" warrant search March 19 at the Brooklyn apartment.

Kopp was apparently ditching his false identities. Agents said they found an envelope, post-marked March 16 from Paris, containing two Irish birth certificates, a death certificate, health insurance forms and blank Irish passport papers.

The FBI said the handwriting was similar to Kopp's.

A note from France

Finally, on March 21, the FBI said in the court papers, an e-mail message went to the Brooklyn account from an address in France.

"Dear person," the e-mail began, "this keyboard is all frenchied up."

Osborne, the New York FBI agent, said there were enough signs of past e-mail messages that he knew this one was from Kopp.

He said Kopp asked that money be sent.

"The sooner I get about 1,000, the sooner you see this smiling, cherubic face," the message said.

A second message that day asked for $20, and Marra responded that she would send it, the FBI said, telling Kopp she had also sent her cellular phone number to him.

"My hard line," the FBI said she told Kopp of her regular phone number, "is listed in the phone book under the name you (mail) me at. The hard line is safest."

She followed the message two hours later, the FBI said, by telling Kopp she had as much money as he needed.

The FBI monitored plans by Malvasi and Marra to ship $300 to Kopp and said when he went to pick it up Thursday, he was met by a swarm of French police.

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