VERO BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Authorities in Florida say they foiled an elaborate jail escape plan by a 78-year-old businessman who had previously fled to France following his 2014 arrest on child pornography charges before being arrested in another country and returned to the U.S.
A tip from outside the jail sparked a two-month investigation into the actions of John Manchec, some of his employees and others who he befriended in jail, Indian River County Sheriff Eric Flowers said Monday during a news conference. Manchec is a citizen of both the United States and France.
"Essentially, the plan comes down to this," the sheriff said. "These folks that are on the outside are going to wait until Manchec has a doctor's visit, and they are going to take out our corrections staff while he's out at the medical facility.”
The plan also called for Manchec's employees to have a plane — which the sheriff said the man owns — ready in nearby Fort Pierce, so he could escape.
Manchec, who the sheriff described as a multimillionaire, was originally arrested in 2014 on 49 child pornography charges. He left the country to avoid prosecution after posting a nearly $500,000 bond. He returned to southern France where he owned a Medieval estate, the Chateau Pechrigal, the sheriff said.
The sheriff said attempts to have Manchec extradited from France were denied, but he was eventually arrested in the Dominican Republic in 2020, and returned to Florida.
Manchec sought to get out of jail in January, saying he suffered from several chronic medical conditions, and because he broke his hip and wrist late last year, the sheriff said. The request was denied.
The escape plot centered on an April 12 medical appointment, Flowers said. But people involved in the plan had loose lips and investigators received a tip that they began looking into.
An examination of Manchec's jail phone records discovered he used the code words “paint job” while talking with his employees about the plot.
The plan included preparing his plane, a 140-foot (42-meter) yacht, a black utility van and other vehicles that were purchased just for the escape attempt, Flowers said. Manchec even paid the bail for a cellmate who lived in his home and helped make the arrangement, including preparing a suitcase and purchasing his prepared liquor, the sheriff said.
“He’s going back to his castle in France … he’s going to escape in his plane and get back to France and he’s never going to have to face these charges,” the sheriff said.
“This was the real deal,” Flowers said, adding that the plan was discovered before it could be set into motion.
Manchec remains in the Indian River County Jail on attempted escape charges, and four others were arrested and charged in the plot. A lawyer who could speak on behalf of Manchek was not listed on jail records.
Manchec was originally arrested in December, 2014, following a child pornography investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.