San Diego Vintage Mercedes owners, lonely ladies, and San Diego retailers beware. Eric Erickson is coming back to town. Saturday, October 16, the former La Jollan and two other inmates walked out of a minimum-security federal prison camp in Greenville, Illinois. The two others, Terrance Gregory of Wilton, Iowa, and Jason Carter of High Ridge, Missouri, were recaptured four days later. Erickson remains on the loose. "We heard he was in Arizona, possibly heading this way," says Mark Owen, public information officer for the U.S. Marshal's office in San Diego. "We got the lead from the Southern Illinois office, and I've assigned a deputy to the case. Fugitives will often return to where they have contacts; family, friends, or business associates."
Eric Edward Erickson, born December 14, 1947, in South Bend, Indiana, has done plenty of business in San Diego, little of it legal. Throughout the late '80s and early '90s, operating from his La Jolla residence, he stole and sold older Mercedes-Benzes. In 1991 and 1992, Erickson spent the majority of his time in San Diego County courtrooms and prisons because of his business.
In San Diego Superior Court, in April of 1991, he was charged with stealing a vehicle, grand theft of personal property, possession and sale of a counterfeit VIN (vehicle identification number), and perjury. He pleaded guilty to a count of "unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle" and was committed to the custody of the Adult Institutions Division of the San Diego probation department.
July 30, 1991, a little more than two months before his earliest possible release date, Erickson walked out of Jamul's Camp Barrett, then a probation camp. On March 10, 1992, in El Cajon Superior Court, he pleaded not guilty to escape without force, a plea he would later change to no contest. Three days later, he was charged in a separate case in San Diego Superior Court with one count of stealing a vehicle and another count of unlawfully driving or taking a vehicle. He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge and was fined $250 and given a two-year sentence with the court order, "The defendant to serve out custody in federal custody." Erickson's escape case in East County also ended in a two-year sentence to be served in federal custody.
His dealings with stolen cars, which had previously landed Erickson in state prison, now ran afoul of federal law because he had transported some of the vehicles across state lines. On June 12, 1992, a grand jury indicted him on six counts of selling stolen vehicles -- five 1972 Mercedes 450 SLs and one 1972 350 SL, which had all been transported across state lines after being stolen. Anne Perry, the assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the case remembers. "He actually had a really neat thing going. The deal was, cars that vintage, you could register them in New York by mail. All you had to do was send a slip of paper; you didn't have to present any proof. He'd register them to himself, with the phony New York registrations, and then sell them. I don't remember much about him, I think I only saw him in court once, but I remember thinking he had a pretty good scheme going there. It was clever. He had to really understand the laws of New York to pull off what he pulled off. It was unusual."
Debra DiIorio, a former federal defense attorney who defended Erickson, has similar memories of Erickson's scheme. "It was an unusual case," she recalls. "I don't remember too many details, but I remember it was an ingenious crime."
Asked what she remembers about her former client, DiIorio laughs, "I remember him being very smart, and I remember that he was more colorful than the average bear."
Deputy U.S. Marshal John Leahy, of the Southern District of Illinois U.S. Marshal's office, corroborates. "From what we've found out from former associates and fellow inmates, he lives a very flashy lifestyle. He passes himself off as a playboy, drives expensive cars. The prisoners we've talked to have said that too. And he seems to have a pretty good line of bullshit with the women. He always seems to hook up with a lady and sponges off her."
It's hard to imagine a woman falling for Erickson, given his 250-pound, triple-chinned Federal Bureau of Prisons photo. But they did. One, Jeane Cordingley, was named as a co-defendant on one of the federal counts against Erickson. After he pleaded guilty to three counts and was sentenced to 15 months and three years' supervised release, Cordingley was given a year-long deferral of prosecution and then her case was dismissed. "It was a what-they'll-do-for-love type of situation," Anne Perry recalls.
Attempts to locate and speak with Jeane Cordingley in San Diego were unsuccessful. Leahy explains why. "We've located her in Chicago," he says.
Chicago and San Diego -- actually, their upscale suburbs of Villa Park and La Jolla -- are the two home bases between which Erickson, whom Leahy describes as "kind of a drifter," alternated. Before three months had passed since the end of his 15-month prison term in March of 1994, Erickson had committed crimes in both cities. "What happened was," Leahy explains, "when he was let out of Lompoc, he was put on supervised release, which is the federal equivalent of parole in the state system. He never reported. Got out of jail one day and then said, 'The hell with it, I'm gone. I'm not going to report.' A warrant was issued for his arrest, and he became a fugitive at that point."
Out of prison, a fugitive from the law, and in San Diego, Erickson immediately went back to his old ways, stolen cars and women, and added a new trick to his criminal repertoire: making counterfeit money on a computer. "He stole a silver 1969 Mercedes Benz in La Jolla," Leahy explains. "Then he meets up with another girl and takes the car and the girl around California and up to Vegas, spending counterfeit money the whole time. He passed counterfeit money in San Diego, Costa Mesa, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, San Jose, and Palo Alto. So he's with her from approximately March to May of '94. Then he decides he's going to leave and head to Illinois. In May of '94 he drives into the Chicago area. There he begins to make counterfeit money and continues to pass fake money. On July 16, 1994, he was arrested, not by Chicago PD but by the Aurora, Illinois, PD. He got caught passing a funny twenty in a mall there."