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Mistaken identity blamed in mail fraud convict’s jail escape

February 26, 2020 GMT
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This 2019 photo provided by the Weber County Sheriff's Office shows inmate Matthew Belnap. A California man who was behind bars for bank fraud escaped from a Utah jail Tuesday night by posing as Belnap, a fellow inmate whose time had come to be released, authorities said Wednesday Feb. 26, 2020. Inmate, Kaleb Wiewandt was allowed to leave the jail in Ogden, Utah, because staff thought he was Belnap, who helped him carry out the plan, said Weber County Sheriff's Lt. Joshua Marigoni. Belnap who supposed to be freed Tuesday night after spending more than 70 days in jail after pleading no contest last year to retail theft charges, he said. ( Weber County Sheriff's Office via AP)
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This 2019 photo provided by the Weber County Sheriff's Office shows inmate Matthew Belnap. A California man who was behind bars for bank fraud escaped from a Utah jail Tuesday night by posing as Belnap, a fellow inmate whose time had come to be released, authorities said Wednesday Feb. 26, 2020. Inmate, Kaleb Wiewandt was allowed to leave the jail in Ogden, Utah, because staff thought he was Belnap, who helped him carry out the plan, said Weber County Sheriff's Lt. Joshua Marigoni. Belnap who supposed to be freed Tuesday night after spending more than 70 days in jail after pleading no contest last year to retail theft charges, he said. ( Weber County Sheriff's Office via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A California man convicted of mail fraud escaped from a Utah jail Tuesday night by posing as a fellow inmate whose time had come to be released, authorities said Wednesday.

Kaleb Wiewandt was allowed to leave the jail in Ogden, Utah, because staff thought he was inmate Matthew Belnap, said Weber County Sheriff’s Lt. Joshua Marigoni. Belnap was supposed to be freed Tuesday night after spending more than 70 days in jail after pleading no contest to retail theft charges.

But when jail staff called for Belnap to gather his belongings, surveillance footage shows it was Wiewandt who grabbed his stuff and left, according to court documents.

On Monday, Belnap had helped Wiewandt shave his head to look like him and he also gave Wiewandt his identification card, authorities said. Wiewandt recited Belnap’s date of birth and Social Security number to jail staff before he was released.

Deputies realized they had released the wrong man two hours later, when Belnap told staffers he still needed to be released.

Wiewandt, 40, is from Orange County, California, and authorities believe he might try to go there but think he’s still in the Ogden area, Marigoni said. He had emailed with a woman about plans to pick him up from the jail Tuesday night, according to jail staff.

Wiewandt had been in the jail since December, one month after he was arrested in California for having escaped a halfway house for parolees in Utah in September 2018, court documents show.

He was the halfway house as part of his supervised released after he pleaded guilty in 2015 to mail and wire fraud in a federal court in Arizona. He acknowledged taking part in a scheme to steal stamps from post offices over two years in which he and others stole $1.2 million in stamps and sold them for nearly half of that value, court documents show.

He was sentenced in 2016 to four years and three months in prison, and three years supervised release.

It’s unclear where Wiewandt went after he escaped the Salt Lake City halfway house until his arrest in November 2019 in California. He was brought back to Utah to face charges of escaping custody. He had pleaded not guilty to that charge and was awaiting a May trial.

David Shapiro, his attorney in that case, didn’t have any comment about his client’s escape.

Belnap, 36, has been charged with obstruction of justice for his role in the escape. It’s unknown why he allegedly agreed to help Wiewandt. Police are investigating whether the pair believed they could convince guards there had been a mistake and they could both go free, Marigoni said. He doesn’t have an attorney listed in court documents.

Belnap’s criminal record in Utah includes attempted burglary and several drug-related charges, according to state court records.

Marigoni said an investigation will seek to assess what went wrong and how they can prevent it from happening, including the possible addition of a biometric fingerprint scanner.