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Holy switch-a-roo! Texas investigator charged in comic book heist

Karen Warren / AP file

Anthony Chiofalo, accused of embezzling $9 million from his former employer Japanese equipment manufacturer Tadano America leaves a Houston court on Jan. 7. Chiofalo had just turned himself in after about six months on the run. His lawyer says at least $1 million of Chiofalo's assets, which he needs to pay restitution to Tadano, have been stolen by a former investigator in the Harris county district attorney's office.

It is a tangled tale that could perhaps be best told through a graphic novel.

A former Texas police investigator appeared in federal court Tuesday accused of stealing comic books worth hundreds of thousands of dollars -- from a man who was himself facing charges for stealing millions of dollars from his employer, which he then used to buy the valuable classics, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Lonnie Blevins was an investigator for Harris County involved in the case of lawyer Anthony Chiofalo, who was charged last May with bilking his employer out of $9 million.

In the course of the case, authorities seized Chiofalo’s high-priced comics and other collectibles — including a first-edition Batman comic book worth about $900,000 and an original Green Lantern comic valued at $300,000.

But after a months-long federal investigation, Blevins was arrested in the disappearance of some of those assets which he allegedly sold.

Blevins, who left the Harris County District attorney's office in December, resigned from his subsequent job with the Bexar County D.A.'s office on Monday after learning of the charges, his lawyer, Dick DeGuerin told the Chronicle.

The FBI believes Blevins stole the Chiofalo’s comic books from a storage unit containing evidence from the fraud case, and that he sold some of them to dealers in Chicago for $70,000, according court documents obtained by local TV station KTRK.

According to witnesses interviewed by the FBI, Blevins asked for the money in small check amounts, the report says.

Chiofalo's path to the present has many twists. He was charged last May for stealing millions from Japan-based crane manufacturer Tadano America, by getting his company to pay millions to a phantom law firm and then pocketing the money. When Chiofalo's wife, 51-year-old Susan Chiofalo was arrested, he fled Texas.

Chiofalo was was on the lam until December, and by coincidence staying in Newtown, Conn. at the time of the horrific grade school shootings. As police swarmed into the town, he left and turned himself in at a police station in Rhode Island.

Now, under a civil judgment Chiofalo is attempting to pay restitution to Tadano, according to his attorney, Paul Doyle.

Doyle said that how much his client is able to repay in the civil case could affect Chiofalo’s sentencing in the criminal case against him.

"We have been trying to cooperate and provide the company with restitution, but have not been able to," Doyle said.

Doyle says that the county did not follow inventory and security procedures for the seized assets, and there appear to be dozens of comic books missing — worth more than $1 million, he said.

Doyle says he is drafting a motion to get Chiofalo’s case dismissed, because of the alleged misconduct by the Harris County DA in handling the assets and other aspects of the case, including the arrest of Chiafalo’s wife, 51-year-old Susan Chiofalo, for alleged involvement in the theft. She is out on bail, and her case is pending.

Meantime, Chiofalo remains in the Harris County jail, unable to make the $18 million bail.

Blevins is out on bond.

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