Tip During ‘The Hunt’ Led Authorities to San Diego-Area Fugitive in NYC
Investigators say they sifted through hundreds of tips in their search for Charles Mozdir, but a phone call they got during CNN’s “The Hunt” with John Walsh helped them crack the case.
On Monday, eight days after the show first aired, the 32-year-old suspected sex offender died in a shootout in New York City as police closed in.
During the show, first broadcast on July 20, a deputy U.S. marshal fielding calls got a tip about Mozdir, accused in a 2012 California child molestation case.
“I know Mozdir. He left here 10 months ago,” the caller said, according to Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Steve Jurman.
The call “really stood out,” Jurman said, “because they mentioned that he had a dog.”
The last time Mozdir had been spotted, Jurman said, his black Labrador, Lucky, was with him.
The tip was the first strong lead about his whereabouts that investigators had in more than two years, but they didn’t know where he’d gone since.
“It was the newest information we had,” Jurman said. “Our case went cold in 2012. He was definitely living on cash, with a good fake ID. He was off our grid.”
That changed Monday, when a New York police detective and two U.S. marshals entered the smoke shop in New York City where Mozdir worked.
Mozdir “fired on officers at a very close range,” New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said, and “officers returned fire.” The officers were wounded during the shootout but are expected to recover, authorities said.
He used a five-shot revolver and fired five times, a law enforcement official said.
New York Police Department Detective Mario Muniz, 45, was hit three times — twice in a bulletproof vest and once underneath, a source briefed on the investigation said.
A U.S. marshal was shot once in the leg. It’s unclear whether the second marshal was shot in the arm or the injury resulted from shrapnel and flying glass, according to the source briefed on the investigation.
Mozdir had 10 bullet wounds — six to the abdomen, two to the chest and two to the left arm, the law enforcement official said.
A medical examiner will try to determine how many times he was shot; some of the injuries could be entry and exit wounds.
In addition, there is a chance that friendly fire injured one of the marshals, given the tight quarters where the shooting occurred, the law enforcement official added.
Armed with a search warrant, authorities seized a number of items from Mozdir’s apartment Monday night, including a Gateway computer, an Acer laptop, a West Virginia driver’s license and prescription pills, the law enforcement official said.
Mozdir had been sought by authorities since June 2012. He had “apparently changed his appearance from earlier times,” Bratton said, declining to provide further details on what he said was an ongoing investigation.
A series of leads
Walsh said that after the episode featuring Mozdir, authorities received a tip that he was working at a restaurant in Manhattan, but the information didn’t pan out.
After CNN re-aired Mozdir’s episode Sunday night, another tip came in that resulted in an address for him, according to Walsh.
Investigators, responding to the tip, learned he may be in Florida. They were told that Mozdir may be living in New York City and possibly working at a smoke shop, a senior law enforcement official said.
After obtaining Mozdir’s cell phone number, U.S. marshals tracked it to New York City’s West Village, a source briefed on the investigation said.
Muniz and the two U.S. marshals went to the store to see if he was there. The detective entered the shop, recognized Mozdir and then left, police said. The marshals and Muniz then went back into the store to arrest him, and that’s when Mozdir opened fire, authorities said.
Mozdir had changed his appearance with a beard and longer hair, an NYPD official said.
While CNN’s “The Hunt” aired Sunday, police warned that Mozdir was believed to be armed.
“Charles Mozdir owns a gun and is known to live off of the land,” police in Coronado, California, posted on Facebook last week.
Mozdir had a .32-caliber revolver with 20 spare rounds of ammunition in his pocket at the time of his death, the police commissioner said.
Police are canvassing the area for video, according to a New York law enforcement source.
The wounded officers, all of whom were part of a U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force, were transported to Bellevue Hospital, Bratton said.
Officials said their injuries did not appear to be life-threatening and they were in stable condition.
It’s likely that a bulletproof vest that Muniz was wearing saved his life, Bratton said.
“We appreciate their bravery, their strength, their decisiveness,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “and we’re going to make sure each one of them is taken care of.”
Family ‘was destroyed, terrified’
Mozdir was arrested in California in 2012 after the young son of two close friends told his parents that Mozdir had touched his private parts. Mozdir was at their house, helping care for the now 7-year-old boy, who was ill with a high fever. His parents, who requested that their names not be used, immediately went to police.
“He was on the run for almost two years. And this family was destroyed, terrified that he would come back and hurt them because they had the courage to come forward and file charges against him,” Walsh said Monday.
On the run from authorities, Mozdir had apparently shared with others his plan to one day kill the young boy’s father for turning him in, Walsh said. “And now they don’t have to worry if this guy’s coming back to hurt the family or hurt their little boy. So there’s a big sigh of relief tonight that Charles Mozdir is off this planet.”
After the parents’ report in 2012, investigators in Coronado, California, executed a search warrant on Mozdir’s house and found evidence of child pornography and bestiality on his cell phone and computers, according to U.S. Marshals Service Deputy Brian Grimes.
Mozdir was arrested four days after the incident and booked into the San Diego County jail before posting bail the next day. The district attorney told the couple that Mozdir had been accused in another child assault case when he was baby-sitting a young boy, who told his mother. On June 15, 2012, Mozdir failed to appear at his arraignment.
Charges were immediately filed, and a $1 million arrest warrant was issued. Grimes said investigators think he took all his money and fled. Mozdir indicated that he was considering going to Mexico or Japan during one of his last phone calls. His roommate told police that Mozdir had two guns and had threatened to kill himself and kill a victim’s father.
The Coronado Police Department and the U.S. Marshals Service searched for Mozdir in Georgia and California, as well as the Mexican state of Baja California. On June 20, 2012, Coronado police found Mozdir’s abandoned vehicle hidden in the brush outside the coastal Georgia town of Darien. The license plate had been ripped off, and there was an extra gas tank inside. A bloodhound picked up Mozdir’s scent near U.S. Highway 17.
Walsh: ‘This is our first capture’
“The Hunt,” which premiered on CNN on July 13, aims to expose stories of ongoing criminal investigations of fugitives and expand the search internationally.
On Monday, Walsh described Mozdir’s death as a “tough ending.”
“It really reaffirms my belief that people don’t want to be vigilantes. They want to be involved and do the right thing,” he said.
“This is our first capture. I’m very sorry that those police officers got wounded in the line of duty,” Walsh said, “but this is one more lowlife that’s off the streets.”