The FBI is defending itself against claims it shortchanged the man who found the skeletal remains of the last of the notorious Four Corners fugitives.
Eric Bayles, a Blanding cowboy, was given a $75,000 check by federal agents on Feb. 22 for finding the remains of Jason McVean. He stumbled upon the fugitive's bones in the deserts of San Juan County last year.
The wanted poster for McVean originally advertised a $150,000 reward, and Bayles feels cheated.
"I think they was pretty crooked about it. If they wasn't gonna pay it, they shouldn't have offered it," he told KSL-TV.
In a statement to the Deseret Morning News, the FBI's Salt Lake City office said it has paid out approximately $225,000 in reward money for the Four Corners fugitives. A group of 11 Navajo deer hunters collected approximately $13,600 each for discovering the remains of Alan Pilon in 2000. The third fugitive, Robert Mason, killed himself after shooting a San Juan County Sheriff's deputy back in 1998.
"While the FBI believes that the $75,000 payment to Mr. Bayles represents fair compensation, it is aware of statements made by Mr. Bales that he does not believe the same and that he may file legal action against the FBI to obtain an additional reward amount," the FBI said in its statement. "Because of the potential for further litigation in this matter, the FBI will have no further comment at this time."
San Juan County officials have said they believe Bayles is entitled to the full reward, and are planning to plead his case to officials in Washington, D.C.
Bayles discovered the remains of McVean while out tending cattle in June 2007. He noticed the bulletproof vest, then found some bones, a backpack full of pipe bombs and ammunition and a rusted AK-47. The discovery brought an end to the notorious 1998 manhunt that began with the murder of Cortez, Colo., police officer Dale Claxton, who tried to pull over Mason, McVean and Pilon. His car was riddled with bullets and the three survivalists fled into the desert.
The manhunt lasted months and seemed destined to remain a mystery until the bodies of Pilon and McVean were found. The FBI said the manhunt was a "tragic day" for all law enforcement."The FBI would also like to especially remember the Claxton family who suffered the greatest loss that terrible day in 1998," the statement said.