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Rast files appeal, still on the lam
MONROE - A Monroe man wanted for a possible violation of his probation on convictions of commercial gambling has filed for an appeal from Costa Rica, where he moved in the months since his October sentencing.

Werner J. Rast, 51, filed for an appeal last week in Green County Circuit Court. He signed his letter using a post office box in the Perez Zeledon canton of San Jose, Costa Rica.

He filed the appeal himself, without representation. The court granted a request that Rast's attorney, Hal Harlowe, be "relieved from any further responsibilities" in the case.

The appeal letter was sent from a Lake Charles, La., address and included a money order for $195 to cover court processing fees. The money order was obtained at a Kroger grocery store in the same city, which is located halfway between Baton Rouge and Houston.

Monroe police are investigating how Rast got to Costa Rica without his U.S. passport, which he surrendered when he was arrested in 2011 on allegations of running a gambling ring. He reportedly netted tens of thousands of dollars annually in "juice" by taking wagers on college basketball and pro football games, at a fee of 10 percent on all lost bets.

Rast pleaded no contest to 10 felony gambling charges. Green County Judge James Beer fined him $10,000 and put him on 18 months of probation.

The Department of Corrections issued a warrant for his arrest in December. Spokeswoman Jackie Guthrie confirmed Thursday it is still valid.

The warrant enters Rast in a nationwide law enforcement database.

"Should he cross the border, either by flight or physically, that should get him apprehended," said Fred Kelley, chief of Monroe police.

A detective in Kelley's department is looking into whether Rast used a Swiss passport to leave the country.

"There is some question about him having dual citizenship because his parents do," Kelley said. Waiting for the Swiss consulate to respond could take a while, he added, because the case likely won't "bubble to the top of the list" for Swiss authorities.

"He's not Osama bin Laden. We have to deal with the red tape and bureaucracy," Kelley said. If Rast didn't leave the country lawfully, "then that would be an additional crime."

Another Monroe man, 53-year-old Jeffrey "Twitty" Conway, was also convicted in the gambling operation. He pleaded no contest to just two of the eight felony charges against him but received the same penalty as Rast. He also had to give up his bar, Old Smokey's.

Court records show Conway paid in full his $10,000 fine and about $3,000 in court fees less than two weeks after his Jan. 30 sentencing.

Rast still owes $13,758.

Many in the community, including prominent leaders, have shown support for the men. The sentencing hearings for both Conway and Rast packed the courtroom. At Rast's sentencing, a petition of support for both was signed by a couple hundred locals and submitted to the judge.

Rast was "thumbing (his) nose at (his) community" by leaving Monroe without the permission of his probation agent, in Kelley's estimation. But even if Rast is arrested, Kelley believes extraditing him to the U.S. from Costa Rica may be a challenge.

"Even if he got out illegally, I don't know how interested they are to extradite him. It depends on the treaties between the countries," Kelley said.

"They're not going to send Seal Team 6 in there."