NORFOLK, Va. – A Maryland man faked his death by jumping into the Chesapeake Bay from a rented fishing boat in 2009 in an effort to avoid possibly spending 15 years in prison for a probation violation, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
Larry Deffenbaugh was arrested in Baytown, Texas, in February 2010 using the name Mike Meyers, nine months after he reportedly fell into the bay near Virginia Beach. Deffenbaugh's disappearance came two days before he was scheduled to appear at a hearing on a probation violation in Calvert County.
The TV show "America's Most Wanted" broadcast a segment about Deffenbaugh, generating a tip that led to his arrest.
Deffenbaugh is the former owner of Southern Memorial Gardens and was convicted in Maryland of theft for bilking more than 500 people out of cemetery services.
In Virginia, Deffenbaugh is charged with causing the communication of a false distress signal.
A federal indictment said he led his brother to believe he fell overboard, prompting a distress call and an extensive search.
Prosecutors said Deffenbaugh had been planning to disappear for days, selling his car to his girlfriend, scouting out a location where he would make his disappearance and filling up on prescription drugs. They said he had told his family that he didn't want to go to jail and noted that Deffenbaugh was a trained diver and ship captain, yet he let his brother with poor vision take the helm of the 23-foot skiff that night.
Deffenbaugh's attorney, Keith Kimball, said that he never tried to mislead anyone into thinking that he had fallen overboard. Instead, he said that Deffenbaugh acknowledged coming onto shore that night to use the bathroom.
Deffenbaugh called his girlfriend to pick him up, his attorney said, when his brother forgot about him and that he was on his way to Texas to get in touch with someone who he believed could help him with his probation hearing when rescuers were out searching.
In court documents, Deffenbaugh said his diabetic brother went into a sugar coma the night in question and forgot what happened, leading him to call 911.
Kimball said the case hinges on whether jurors believe Deffenbaugh or his brother, Wayne.
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