By Christina Calloway
PNT senior writer
U.S. Marshal agents were tipped off about Roosevelt County jail escapee Robert Claudio’s location after his girlfriend attempted to use an employee discount card Tuesday at a Salt Lake City Wal-Mart.
Agents in Utah said they had been working with U.S. Marshals in New Mexico, who had been tracking Claudio’s whereabouts since the escape.
But apprehension of the escapee wasn’t easy, according to agents, because Claudio was wearing a ballcap as he walked through the crowded store, making it a challenge for U.S. Marshals to positively identify the fugitive.
Once the agents matched his tattoos with photos they had of him, they were able to apprehend the 31-year-old and his girlfriend Melissa Arguello, 36, as they exited the store.
“It took us a long time to figure out it was him because he had a ballcap, but we compared tattoos and sealed the deal,” said Michael Wingert, supervisory deputy for the U.S. Marshals in Utah. “He was wearing regular clothes so we can see the tattoos. He’s a fairly large-sized guy (6-foot-3, 220 pounds), that’s kind of what we keyed on.”
Claudio and Arguello remained in the Salt Lake County Detention Center as of Wednesday evening and will be returned to New Mexico once extradition is completed, according to Roosevelt County Sheriff Darren Hooker.
Arguello is facing charges for assisting in Claudio’s escape from the Roosevelt County Detention Center, in which he and two other men escaped through the roof of the jail.
Claudio was being held at the RCDC on an aggravated battery charge. Claudio’s criminal past also includes a second-degree murder charge related to a crime he was convicted of as a minor in Teller County, Colo., according to Teller District Court Judicial Assistant Laura Rippe.
Arguello’s bond is set at $50,000. Claudio does not have the option to bond out when he returns.
Wingert said agents are still not sure what ties the pair had to Utah, but it was believed that they left Portales in a white four-door vehicle owned by Arguello.
“We’re pretty sure no one else brought them (to Utah) but we never saw the car agents thought they might be associated with,” Wingert said.
Wingert said agents kept a low-profile as they followed Claudio around the store for fear he might have a weapon. Wingert said Arguello was easy to identify, dressed in jeans and a regular shirt and didn’t do anything to disguise herself.
“It was a pretty busy Wal-Mart. We weren’t sure if he was armed or not and assumed he might be given his criminal history,” Wingert said. “We didn’t want him running around the store and taking hostages.”
Wingert said when the pair got into a good position, agents made an arrest without causing damage or harm to customers.
“He resisted a little bit but we had the numbers on him,” Wingert said.
Claudio escaped from jail with Abran Baeza, 22, and Noel Webb, 32, by using a metal leg of a jail bed to puncture the jail’s ceiling and gain access to the roof. The men then used a metal pipe to aid their way down to the ground, hopped a fence and fled the jail.
Baeza and Webb were caught hours later at city residence. The trio’s escape was the second in three months from the jail and similar to the escape that took place in June.