The Great Escape it wasn’t. A Florida millionaire planned to abscond to France rather than face child porn charges and plotted to escape jail during a colonoscopy with the help of some of his employees and former cellmate.
Indian River County Sheriff Eric Flowers revealed this week that a tip from someone ‘on the outside’ had sparked the investigation into John Manchec, 78, and his band of incompetent henchmen.
Manchec was first arrested on 46 child pornography charges by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in 2014 and released after posting a $500,000 bond. His US passport was taken away but as a dual citizen, Manchec also owns a French passport.
He was accused of transferring sexual images and videos of children aged between 12 and 18. At the time of his original arrest, Manchec was 69 years old.
Vero News quoted authorities as saying that Manchec’s defense was that he clicked on the images ‘because he was curious.’
John Manchec, shown here, was first arrested in 2014 on child pornography charges, he later escaped to France while on bail, after his escape he was seeking to return to Europe
Manchec’s castle Chateau Pechiral is located close to the city of Toulouse and was built between the 14th and 15th centuries
It is spread across 108 acres with its three floors, 19 bedroom and 17 bathrooms
The Vero News Report also notes that authorities believed Manchec’s ‘French passport may make [him] a flight risk.’
According to his LinkedIn page, Manchec attended college in Orsay, France. On that page, it says Manchec founded Aero Shade Technologies in 1987.
In September 2016, Manchec appealed to the court to be allowed to travel to France for business purposes, but his request was rejected.
With his April 2017 court date looming, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement officer told superiors in March he had evidence that Manchec had absconded. The millionaire’s lawyer also told investigators he hadn’t heard from him either.
In an initial hearing, a witness for the prosecution said it was likely that Manchec would flee the country. He failed to appear before the court and was considered a fugitive from justice.
During his three years on the lam, Manchec lived in his palatial French home, the Chateau Pechrigal. He first bought the estate in 1998 and spent a fortune renovating the impressive property.
This week, Sheriff Flowers said that French authorities did not regard Manchec’s offenses serious enough to warrant extradition.
‘They just said, “We’re not going to cooperate.” That’s not a serious enough crime.’ The sheriff made reference to movie director Roman Polanski saying that they didn’t want this case to go the same way.
‘We take this very seriously, as though they attempted to potentially kill our folks out there… This guy has access to a ton of money,’ Indian River County Sheriff Eric Flowers said Monday
‘It could almost be a movie screenplay,’ Sheriff Flowers later told the Washington Post.
In 2014, was accused of transferring sexual images and videos of children aged between 12 and 18
Manchec’s yacht, the Princess of Palau, formerly known as Lady Sophia, was built in 2010 and can house up to 14 people through seven cabins and is run by a crew of seven
The interior of Manchec’s yacht. At a press conference, Sheriff Flowers held up photos of the millionaire’s opulent possessions
Polanski has been living in exile from US authorities since January 1978 on charges that he drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl.
In 2020, Manchec traveled to the Dominican Republic. His presence there alerted US officials who apprehended him on the Caribbean island and brought him back to south Florida.
Manchec is registered as the president of several different companies around Indian River County, including Selective Properties Florida, Aero Shade Technologies, Inc., and MSA Aircraft Products, Inc.
Sheriff Flowers said that in recent months, prosecutors were gearing up to take Manchec to trial after years of stalling from his attorneys.
‘He could feel the weight of the trial coming. It was imminent. He knew he was going to die in prison as a result of those charges, and this was his last-ditch effort,’ Flowers said.
The escape centered on an April 12 medical appointment for a colonoscopy, Flowers said. A colonoscopy is one of the medical procedures that is not carried out at the jail and requires inmates to go off-campus.
But at least one of the people who became unwittingly involved tipped off law enforcement, allowing investigators to unravel the plot. ‘These guys weren’t quiet about this,’ Sheriff Flowers said.
The tip came from a man named Vance Brinkerhoff, the vice president of Aero Shade Technologies.
The Flamingo Laundry Center in Vero Beach where various handoffs of money and other items were made as part of the plot
Manchec’s arrest report shows that he was born in Paris
Company filings show that Manchec maintains a role within the company, he’s listed as an agent. He wasn’t ousted as the president until late 2022 despite the charges he faced.
Brinkerhoff was alerted by the bank about a withdrawal of $5,000 by an employee named Benjamin Bashton, 67, from a company account.
Bashton told cops after his arrest that he gave the money to a woman named Veronica Tomberg, who was previously arrested for felony grand theft, as per Manchec’s instruction.
Following the transaction, a nervous Bashton took a photo of Tomberg’s license plate which allowed detectives to identify her. The car is registered to a Mark Tomberg.
That money was for an inmate named Kerry Shepherd, 39, who was to serve as a lookout from inside the prison.
Shepherd’s job was to tell those on the outside involved in the plot when Manchec left the jail for his medical appointment.
In 2018, Shepherd was sentenced to five years in prison on armed robbery charges after he was found guilty of holding up a nature preserve in search of narcotics. Shepherd has previous convictions for robbery and other minor charges going back to 2006.
When contacted by Brinkerhoff about the withdrawal, Bashton confessed that it was related to Manchec and his plan to escape prison.
Byron Harvey had been John Manchec’s cellmate, the millionaire paid for his bail so that he could orchestrate the plot, police say
Benjamin Bashton worked for John Manchec’s for years before becoming involved in the plot, police say
Kerry Shepherd’s role as an inmate was to provide a lookout to tell the others when Manchec had gone to the doctor
Kristen Maso De Moya, one of Manchec’s employees, is accused of facilitating phone calls related to the escape
Bashton elaborated on the plan to Brinkerhoff saying that he’d given a briefcase containing some of Manchec’s belongings, including a bottle of vodka, bank and insurance cards and clothing, to three black males inside of the Flamingo Laundry Center in Vero Beach.
When speaking to authorities, Brinkerhoff said that at the direction of Manchec, he bought a property in Vero Beach through the company Selective Properties.
At the time of the interview, two men who Brinkerhoff said he didn’t know were living there.
One of those men was Byron Harvey, 48. Authorities were quickly able to discover that Harvey had been a cellmate of Manchec’s. A 2017 newspaper report referred to Harvey as an ‘habitual offender.’
Manchec paid Harvey’s bail, which facilitated his taking part in the plot, and then put him on the payroll of Aero Shade Technologies. The company that makes sun shades for planes.
In prison, Bashton said that Manchec used his wealth to exert influence and to pay for protection.
Another man recruited was Hector Negron Espada, who was charged with lewd and lascivious behavior with a person under the age of 12 in 2018. Espada had told Brinkerhoff to hire people on Manchec’s behalf without asking questions.
One of those men is named as Craig Wilmouth in documents but his role in the escape plan is not clear.
Bashton later told authorities that he had been in Manchec’s employ for 10 years and that he knew Harvey was living in a home owned by the millionaire while also using his various cars.
A black van was one of the vehicles purchased by Harvey on behalf of Manchec to facilitate the plot, police say
The other car, a pick-up truck, was also bought by Harvey as part of the plot
At Monday’s press conference, Sheriff Flowers described those involved as people Manchec met in prison as well as some of his employees.
Brinkerhoff first made contact with authorities on April 10 to tell about them about the withdrawal as well as his conversation with Bashton.
An examination of Manchec’s jail phone records found that he used the code words ‘paint job’ while talking with his employees about the plot.
The communications were done across the Smart Communications Jail Mail system, a texting, phone call and video chat service used by inmates.
In those conversations, authorities believe that Manchec used the word ‘perfume’ to mean pepper spray.
The plan called for Manchec’s employees to pepper-spray prison guards and take him to his private plane, The Navajo, in nearby Fort Pierce, so that he could fly to France, Flowers said.
Harvey bought two cars, a Black Ford Van and a Silver Toyota Tundra, to be used in the escape. The suspect had surveilled the area where Manchec would be brought for his colonoscopy.
Harvey was arrested on May 12. He was interviewed by detectives during which time he admitted to everything and said that his involvement in the plan was to ‘finesse’ money out of Manchec.
In his interview, Bashton said that Harvey offered him $100,000 to take a more direct role in the plan, an offer that Bashton said he turned down. When Harvey was asked about that offer, he said it was a joke.
‘Essentially, the plan comes down to this, 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 and they’re going to grab him and they’re going to have his plane ready in Fort Pierce,’ Flowers 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 added. The suspect’s arrest documents say that Manchec was born in Paris.
Vance Brinkerhof, the vice president of one of Manchec’s companies, notified authorities when he noticed the suspicious cash withdrawals
In the conference, Flowers held up photos of the French castle as well as Manchec’s yacht and plane.
‘We take this very seriously, as though they attempted to potentially kill our folks out there… This guy has access to a ton of money. He has the ability to make this happen.’ the sheriff said Monday.
The group enlisted to help carry out the escape plot were to prepare his plane, his 140-foot yacht, a black utility van and other vehicles purchased just for the attempt, Flowers said.
Manchec’s yacht, the Princess of Palau, was built in 2010 and can house up to 14 people through seven cabins and is run by a crew of seven.
Kristen Maso De Moya, 26, is accused of helping to organize phone calls that were related to the plot, the sheriff said Monday. According to her LinkedIn page, de Moya works as a contract administrator for Aero Shade Technologies.
As recently as January, Manchec requested permission for medical leave from prison because he was suffering from chronic medical conditions, and because he broke his hip and wrist late last year, the sheriff said. The request was denied.
Manchec’s castle Chateau Pechiral is located close to the city of Toulouse and was built between the 14th and 15th centuries. Since 1963, until Manchec took it over, it belonged to a popular French singer-songwriter named Leo Ferre.
It is spread across 108 acres with its three floors, 19 bedroom and 17 bathrooms. There is a private vineyard, large terrace, two-floor wine cellar, tennis court, swimming pool, gym and spa.
Online records show that the castle was put up for auction in 2020 but it was apparently never sold.
La Depeche reports that when the castle went on the market, it only fetched $1.6 million. Manchec expected more with the property being valued at $4.5 million.
In addition to his castle, Manchec owns homes in the US and in the US Virgin Islands.
A lawyer listed on Manchec’s court records did not immediately return an email seeking comment on the new charges.
‘It could almost be a movie screenplay,’ Sheriff Flowers told the Washington Post.
Online records show that just three months before his original arrest, Manchec married a Brazilian woman named Liange Keffer Machado.
Records show that Machado has operated a number of businesses in south Florida since her marriage, including an art dealership. That company was dissolved in 2018. She now lives in Orlando.
Manchec is being held on a charge of attempted escape on a $250,000 bond.
Byron Harvey is charged with criminal conspiracy and unlawful use of two-way communication and is being held on a bond of $150,000.
Ben Bashton and Kerry Shepherd are being held on $50,000 bonds on criminal conspiracy charges. Records show that Bashton has posted and has been released.
Kristen Maso De Moya is also charged with criminal conspiracy and is in the process of being extradited to Indian River County.