Morgan Michelle Hoke The ponytail bandit arrested in Bangkok

Hoke, 21, and her 26-year-old husband, Stuart Michael Romine, are accused of robbing banks in Texas, including one in Austin, and possibly in California and Washington. The couple arrived in Bangkok on Jan. 20, according to arrest warrants.Bank robbery suspect Morgan Michelle Hoke, accused of being the woman dubbed the "ponytail bandit," could have reinvented herself here. In downtown Bangkok, street vendors offer forged American driver's licenses for about $35. Medical clinics provide plastic surgery for a fraction of U.S. prices. Hotel owners often look the other way if guests give false names. The combination of lax law enforcement, easy hospitality and thousands of backwater towns has attracted a wide roster of fugitives to Thailand and other nations in Southeast Asia. Hoke was detained Feb. 13 at a hotel popular with budget travelers and was extradited to the U.S. the next day. Romine flew from Thailand to India on Feb. 10 and is still being sought, Thai police said. The day Hoke was detained, Thai police also arrested Earl Bonds, a 42-year-old American wanted in St. Louis on child molestation charges. He was turned over to U.S. officials Thursday for extradition. The two are part of a long and growing list of American fugitives caught in Thailand. One of the most prominent recent extraditions was of James Vincent Sullivan, a multimillionaire who once lived in Palm Beach, Fla., and in 2006 was sentenced to life in prison for arranging his wife's murder in Atlanta. In another high-profile case, Saner Wonggoun, then 59, a Thai-born American citizen, was extradited to the U.S. in 2006 on charges of murdering his wife in California. He had been living in Thailand for 12 years when police found him working in a market. Although Thai immigration police do not release statistics on how many foreign fugitives have been caught in Thailand, the nation of 65 million people extradites many foreigners each year, said Suppachai Paladech, an inspector with the department.
"If you type 'fugitive' and 'Thailand' into Google, you get a lot of news," he said. "Some people think they can escape here." (The Google search produces about 171,000 hits.) Fugitives are attracted to Southeast Asia partly because of lax enforcement of immigration laws, experts said. Americans like Hoke can blend in easily in Thailand, where more than 7,000 U.S. expatriates legally reside and work. And last year, more than 700,000 American tourists visited Thailand. Thousands of foreigners living in Thailand make frequent "visa runs," trips to neighboring countries to renew monthlong tourist visas, and many are able to work without legal documentation. Because Thailand gets millions of foreign tourists each year, "it's easy for someone to hide themselves in some of the tourist places," Suppachai said.
The problem is clear in the Khao San district of Bangkok, where Hoke was detained last week. Residents and tourists said many hotels do not ask guests to register with their passport numbers, as required by Thai law. An open trade in fake documents also makes Thailand attractive to fugitives. Vendors sell fake identification cards and driver licenses, and Web sites offer second passports. One Web site advertising to people "who are seriously considering moving to Thailand ... perhaps for the rest of their lives" included a link to buy a passport from the African nation of Burkina Faso.
Thailand's borders with Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar — nations, experts said, that are less likely than Thailand to extradite criminals — also are poorly patrolled, said Punthip Kanchanachittra Saisoonthorn, a law professor at Bangkok's Thammasat University. The Thai government has taken steps to catch fugitives. After the deportation of American John Mark Karr, who falsely confessed in 2006 to murdering JonBenet Ramsey, the Colorado girl whose death made headlines in 1996, Thailand's immigration department limited the number of times foreigners could renew tourist visas, though locals say corrupt officials sometimes break the rules.
Karr, who was arrested in California in 2001 and charged with possession of child pornography, had lived in Thailand on and off for nearly two years and taught English to elementary school students in Bangkok.
Karr "was sort of a tripwire" for the Thai government to improve surveillance of foreigners, said Michael Turner, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok.
"Since then, it's become a little more difficult" for Americans to stay illegally, Turner said.
Thai immigration police used information Hoke had listed on customs forms to find her within hours of receiving her name and photograph from the FBI.
But some Thais complained that their government had not done enough to keep criminals out of Thailand. Putich Santichaivoravei, a 23-year-old engineering student in Bangkok, said he was surprised that Hoke and her husband remained in Thailand for nearly a month after a source had contacted California police to say Hoke was the "ponytail bandit." "It's not good that felons can come to Thailand," Putich said as he relaxed in a downtown park. "We don't know who is a criminal and how to protect ourselves from them."

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