LOS LUNAS — An attempt to liberate a man held at the Valencia County Detention Center last week ended with the inmate staying in his cell and four additional people being arrested and charged.
On Wednesday, Feb. 1, the U.S. Marshals Service brought Andrew Pankotai, 35, to VCDC to await extradition on a bench warrant out of Pennsylvania. Pankotai, and his wife, Dixie Pankotai, 34, have lived in Belen for nearly a year after he allegedly absconded from Pennsylvania after pleading guilty to one felony count of burglary.
When the date of his sentencing came on Dec. 30, Pankotai consulted with his lawyer, didn’t like what he heard and left the courtroom, county Sheriff Robert Wolfe told The Daily Item, a Pennsylvania newspaper.
Valencia County Detention Center Warden Joe Chavez said he started receiving faxes the day after Pankotai was arrested from a “Continental United States Superior Court” judge, saying Pankotai was being unlawfully held and he was to be immediately released.
“It was a pretty decent document but you don’t know who is sending what,” Chavez said.
A second fax came through from the same organization, naming three individuals who were traveling to the jail to retrieve Pankotai and would have the proper credentials to retrieve him. Chavez contacted the marshal who brought the inmate in to verify the request to release Pankotai was legitimate.
The response was the “court” was a group similar to sovereign citizen groups, which believe local laws and ordinances do not apply to them, and to ignore the fax.
“They said (these groups) try this kind of thing but to keep him in custody,” the warden said.
Chavez then received a phone call indicating the group referred to in the second fax would be at the detention center shortly to take Pankotai. He contacted the marshal again, asking someone from the agency come to the jail in case they showed up.
“So, were they really coming? Was this a case of the left hand not talking to the right hand?” Chavez said. “I wanted (the U.S. Marshals) there to validate their credentials.”
Marshals and New Mexico State Police officers went to the jail and about 10 minutes later, four individuals arrived.
“Everyone was surprised. From what I understand, no one ever shows up,” the warden said.
Two men with sidearms, dressed in polo shirts with official-looking badges embroidered on them, and two women in street clothes entered the jail through the public entrance.
Chavez instructed them to go to the rear of the facility and drive in through the sally port to pick up the detainee, where they were greeted by U.S. Marshals and NMSP, and taken into custody.
“They followed directives; there was no resistance,” Chavez said. “They were arrested and charged.”
NMSP is the lead agency on the case, making the arrest and investigating the incident further.
The four arrested in the attempt to remove Pankotai from the jail were his wife, Dixie Pankotai, Dylan Stamper, 25, Christie Townsend, 43, and Randy Townsend, 48.
Stamper and the Townsends were charged with bringing contraband into a jail and conspiracy to commit bringing contraband into a jail, both fourth-degree felonies. Stamper and Randy Townsend were carrying firearms and Christie Townsend had a knife with her.
Dixie Pankotai was unarmed and charged with conspiracy to commit bringing contraband into a jail.
All four made their first appearance before Los Lunas Magistrate Tina R. Garcia on Monday and are being held on a $50,000 cash-only bond.
The warden said it doesn’t appear the four knew each other before last week, saying the Townsends drove from Texas, picked up Stamper in Roswell, then picked up Dixie in Belen and then went to the jail to take custody of Andrew Pankotai.
“My understanding is the Pankotais are from Pennsylvania, however they moved to Belen, where Andrew was picked up for the warrants out of Pennsylvania,” Chavez said.
“In my 26 years of doing this, this is a first for me. I’m glad the marshals and state police took it seriously. My staff was excellent and on the ball. I let them do their job and didn’t interfere with their expertise.”
Chavez said he has spoken to the four since they’ve been detained and they don’t believe they were doing anything illegal.
“They fully feel their sovereignty gives them rightful authority and they are legitimate law enforcement,” he said. “They are just waiting for the miscommunication to be cleared up.”
According to The Daily Item, Pankotai was arrested in November 2013, and was scheduled for a jury trial in December 2016 on two felony counts of burglary, two felony counts of criminal trespass and nine related misdemeanor counts. He instead pleaded guilty to one felony count of burglary.