Man linked to missing barista pleads not guilty

Police Chief won't say how man is believed to be linked to Koenig's case.

Anchorage Daily NewsMarch 27, 2012 

The man Anchorage police linked to Samantha Koenig's disappearance told a judge he is broke and pleaded not guilty in Alaska federal court Tuesday to a charge that he pilfered someone else's bank account with a stolen debit card.

Police and federal authorities still have not said how the man, Israel Keyes, is connected to Koenig or the 18-year-old barista's apparent abduction Feb. 1.

Koenig remains missing. Police say an armed man was seen in surveillance video forcing Koenig from the Midtown coffee hut where she worked.

Keyes, 34, is a self-employed carpenter who worked in Anchorage under the name Keyes Construction. According to an FBI agent's affidavit, Keyes used a card reportedly stolen hours after Koenig vanished to steal more than $2,400 from an unnamed man's bank account in several transactions in Anchorage and the Lower 48. He was caught in Texas on March 13 with the stolen card and rolls of cash, the affidavit says.

Keyes made his initial court appearance on a charge of access device fraud Tuesday in Anchorage. About 20 people filled the small Anchorage courtroom, including a sketch artist, journalists and two detectives leading the team that is still trying to find Koenig.

Keyes, clean cut with his dark hair combed back, entered the courtroom and glanced at the full gallery. He was polite in his responses to Judge John Roberts.

Roberts appointed Keyes a public defender after reviewing Keyes' financial statement and asking some questions.

Keyes told the judge his bank account was probably empty. When the judge asked if Keyes had any cash, he said he didn't know.

"I'm not aware of how much cash I have at this time, your honor," Keyes said. "I would say my account is probably overdrawn at this point."

The judge indicated that Keyes' financial affidavit listed many debts. Keyes said he thought he was probably behind on payments for some of the debts, and that if he sold his property to pay off the debt -- including work tools, a trailer and some unimproved land he owns -- he would still owe money.

"I'm guessing, at this point, I'm approaching a month behind on some of them," Keyes said. "If I were to liquidate all of my assets, I would probably still be in debt."

Judge Roberts asked about Keyes' daughter. Keyes said she is 10.

Roberts ordered Keyes held without bail, at the request of federal prosecutors, who said Keyes is a flight risk and danger to the community.

There was no mention of Koenig or the abduction case during the hearing.

Afterward, representatives of the U.S. Attorney's Office, the FBI and the Anchorage Police Department asked for help uncovering more information about Keyes and a pickup truck he used for work.

"This investigation is continuing," said Karen Loeffler, the U.S. attorney for Alaska. "We don't know where Ms. Koenig is, and we're looking for public help."

Police Chief Mark Mew and Kevin Feldis, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting Keyes, refused to say how they believe Keyes is connected to Koenig's disappearance. The authorities announced Keyes' connection to the abduction case because they felt it would help in soliciting information from the public, Feldis said.

"By giving you the significance of the connection ... I think it lets people know the seriousness with which everybody here is taking it and it gives people a reason to call and provide any information that they may be aware of, associated with that truck and Mr. Keyes," Feldis said.

Details would be forthcoming at "the appropriate time," Feldis said.

"We're not trying to be difficult here, it's just that we can't show our hand," Mew said. "We're looking for more information. We're not really in a position to educate certain other people about what we might know. I know it's frustrating to not have the details, but the case requires us to be extremely careful."

Police seized Keyes' pickup -- a white 2004 Chevrolet Silverado -- after he was arrested, Feldis said. Mew said the investigators are "intensely interested" in information from anyone who saw the truck or had business dealings with Keyes during the last two weeks of January and early February.

FBI agent Darrin Jones said the investigators have reason to believe that a utility rack seen on Keyes' pickup in photos was not on the truck around the time of Koenig's abduction.

"It's reasonable to assume that that utility rack in that truck was difficult to get on and off that vehicle," Jones said. "We would very much like to talk to anyone who maybe assisted Mr. Keyes in removing or placing that rack back on the truck any time during the last half of January or the first half of February."

Jones said he wanted to thank the people of Anchorage for their help in the investigation.

"We have received hundreds of phone calls and tips, and we are responding to each and every one of those," Jones said. "We very much need the public's assistance and we appreciate their support in this continuing investigation."

Tips can be called in to 1-800-CALL-FBI.


Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.

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