Could Feds Have Arrested Van Der Sloot for Extortion Before Peru Murder?

Dutch suspect investigated for extortion for weeks prior to Peru murder.

June 4, 2010, 8:30 AM

LIMA, Peru June 4, 2010— -- Weeks after the FBI monitored the payment of $15,000 to Joran van der Sloot by an alleged extortion victim, the Dutch playboy took a seat at a poker table in a Peruvian casino where he would meet the woman whose battered body would later be found in his blood smeared hotel room.

U.S. authorities told that they launched an extortion investigation of van der Sloot six weeks ago, before Stephany Flores Ramirez, 21, was found beaten and stabbed to death last week.

U.S. investigators said they did not issue a warrant for his arrest until this week because they lacked sufficient evidence.

The federal extortion investigation began in late April, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Birmingham said.

On May 10, $15,000 was wired to a Netherlands bank by someone in Mountain Brook, Ala., allegedly in exchange for a promise by van der Sloot to provide information about what happened to Natalee Holloway and the whereabouts of her remains.

Van der Sloot had for five years been the prime suspect in the disappearance on Holloway, a high school student from Mountain Brook who vanished in Aruba on May 30, 2005.

Van der Sloot, a Dutch national who lives in Aruba, was arrested Thursday in Chile and was extradited today to Peru to face murder charges in Flores' death. He told authorities he met Flores, but denied killing her.

For several weeks van der Sloot had been on the radar of American officials who, in a criminal complaint released Thursday, said he planned to extort $250,000 from the unidentified victim.

When asked why van der Sloot was not arrested following the initial alleged payment, authorities told ABC there was not "sufficient evidence to support the charge."

A criminal complaint alleging the extortion was, however, filed Thursday, just days after Flores was found dead and van der Sloot had fled to Chile.

Authorities said their charges were not the result of the Peru death.

"This was completely separate and before the girl was killed in Peru," said Peggy Sanford, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Birmingham. "This investigation had been going on. It was a complete coincidence and tragedy that the other woman was murdered."

The complaint does not name the person whom van der Sloot was trying to extort, by providing information about Holloway's death, but Sanford suggested, van der Sloot had initiated contact by approaching the alleged victim.

"He extorted, or attempted to extort someone, an individual, in exchange for the location of Natalee Holloway's remains and information about her death. Mr. van der Sloot made efforts to extort someone and get money," said Sanford.

U.S. law enforcement, however, may never get to try van der Sloot for the alleged extortion scam. He arrived in Peru today under armed guard.

Famed criminal defense lawyer Roy Black told ABC's "Good Morning America" that, "The murder case in Peru takes precedence over" the extortion charges, and that the chances of van der Sloot getting extradited to Alabama "are zero."

"He's going to get a very long sentence in Peru," Black said. "By the time he gets out of jail, if he ever does, this would be a footnote in history."

The lawyer said, however, that the Holloway disappearance could be used "as evidence of proof in Peru," and the Holloway family may ask a Peru court "for a longer sentence because of Natalee's murder."

Joran van der Sloot Gambled With His Alleged Victim

"If they have enough proof that he committed the crime in Peru, maybe, just maybe that might help to get him to confess in Natalee's case. It just might crack him," a Holloway family lawyer, Vinda de Souza, told the Associated Press.

A spokeswoman for Holloway's mother, Beth Twitty, issued a statement saying she "extends her deepest sympathy" to the Flores family "and prays for swift and sure justice."

"What breaks everybody's heart is this guy had something to do with Natalee and could have been stopped five years ago," Natalee Holloway's aunt Marcia Twitty told ABC

Van der Sloot was grabbed while riding in a taxi near the coastal resort city of Vina Del Mar. Police quickly recognized him despite the fact that his hair had been cut short and dyed red.

Peru's Interior Minister Octavio Salazar Miranda said, "We're confident this young man will pay for his crimes."

New details have emerged about the night that Flores died.

Van der Sloot and Flores, who was an avid gambler, were playing poker in a Lima casino late Saturday night and Flores was winning big, police said.

Investigators said van der Sloot invited Flores to his room at the Miraflores Hotel Tac to celebrate her winnings. A hotel employee later told police that she heard the couple arguing. Hours later, Flores was dead.

ABC News has learned that her body was not discovered for another four days because van der Sloot had prepaid his room for 14 days and instructed the hotel's front desk not to allow anyone into his room, including the cleaning staff.

Flores' father, Ricardo Flores, is a well known politician and former race car driver in Peru. He was burying his daughter at the same time that van der Sloot was being arrested in Chile. He said that his daughter's death had driven stake through the family's heart.

"It's not just about my daughter," he said. "There's a matter pending in Aruba and we don't know how many more remain unpunished."

"I think God used my daughter as an element so that another soul could rest in peace, so that the parents of this girl can rest in peace too, knowing that somewhere in the world justice was made for the killing of their daughter," Flores said.

"This man cannot continue to be out in the world killing people. This man needs to pay for his crimes," he said.

"Joran was able to laugh at the crime he committed in Aruba," the father said. "But in Peru he will not be able to laugh."