Painesville, OH – Convicted sex offender Willard Wigfield, 32, was arrested by the U.S. Marshals Florida Regional Fugitive Task Force and Osceola County Sheriff’s deputies at approximately 5:30 pm on July 23rd, 2013. Wigfield was on bond after pleading guilty to a charge of rape and a warrant was issued after he failed to appear for his sentencing in Lake County Common Pleas Court on Monday, July 8th, 2013. As a condition of the bond, Wigfield was wearing an electronic monitoring device that was sending signals from the Tuscarawas River near New Philadelphia, OH at the time he was supposed to be in court. An extensive search of the river by local authorities failed to locate Wigfield or the device.
The U.S. Marshals Service, along with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and Mentor-on-the-Lake Police, immediately launched an investigation and quickly developed evidence that Wigfield had cut off his bracelet, faked suicide, and was on the run.
During the late night hours of July 9th, 2013 investigators developed information that Wigfield traveled to Orlando, FL and Osceola County Sheriff’s Deputies were dispatched to a hotel to attempt to arrest him. When deputies arrived Wigfield was no longer in the room, however they did locate 33 year old Robert Mahaffey of New Philadelphia, OH. Florida authorities arrested Mahaffey for his involvement in Wigfield’s flight from Ohio. Mahaffey, who had been identified as a close family friend of Wigfield, is still being held in the Osceola County Jail on the first degree felony charge of accessory after the fact to the crime of rape.
Task Force investigators discovered that on Friday, July 5th, 2013 Wigfield made known his plans to flee and enlisted the help of his sister, Stephanie Smith of Coshocton. Smith rented a vehicle for her brother, and the vehicle was recovered by police at the Florida hotel. On Wednesday, July 10th members of the Task Force traveled to Coshocton, and with the help of the Coshocton County Sheriff and Prosecutor, obtained an arrest warrant charging Smith with Obstructing Justice, a third degree felony. Smith was arrested on the warrant and her case in pending.
Investigators turned to the public for help by disseminating Wigfield’s information to local and national media outlets. Tips began flooding in and Marshals followed up on leads in several states. The most promising leads led investigators right back to an area not far from where Wigfield was last seen. The investigation by the Florida Task Force began focusing on an area around the 3100 block of Parkway Blvd. near Kissimmee, FL. This area is a popular tourist destination with many hotels, motels and apartments, which makes it a very easy place for someone to blend in. The Florida Task Force responded by patrolling the area and surveillance was conducted on multiple locations.
On July 23rd the Florida Regional Task Force again established surveillance in the area and late in the afternoon an alert Deputy observed what they believed to be Wigfield’s dog being walked by a person who was not the suspect. The Deputy recognized the dog from photos that were disseminated early in the investigation. The team followed the individual walking the dog and it lead them to Wigfield, who was standing in a parking lot. As the Task Force approached Wigfield, he ran into a swampy, wooded area. The Marshal’s, aware of Wigfield’s previous flight from police, were prepared with a helicopter and K-9 units from the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office. The helicopter was able to track Wigfield’s movements through the swamp and when he began making his way towards a busy interstate a K-9 was deployed. When the K-9 reached Wigfield he refused to surrender and began kicking the dog while trying to run. Wigfield was taken into custody moments later and was transported to a local hospital by Osceola County EMS to be treated for injuries related to the struggle with the K-9. Wigfield is being guarded by armed Officers at the Florida Hospital until he is medically cleared for release. Florida authorities will hold Wigfield until he is extradited back to the State of Ohio.
Assistant Chief Deputy Marshal Andrew Deserto stated, "We are relieved that this sexual predator is back in custody and will soon be facing the sentence he attempted to avoid. Great work to all the law enforcement officers involved in Ohio and Florida."
Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of a known fugitive is encouraged to contact the U.S. Marshals Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force at 1-866-4WANTED or Text keyword WANTED and tip to TIP411 (847411) Tipsters can remain anonymous and reward money is available.
The Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force – Painesville Division is composed of the following federal, state and local agencies: U.S. Marshals Service, Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Offices, Lake County Narcotic’s Agency Ashtabula County Adult Probation, Mentor Police Department, Painesville Police Department, Willoughby Police Department, Willoughby Hills Police Department, Wickliffe Police Department, Eastlake Police Department, Willowick Police Department, Mentor on the Lake Police Department, Middlefield Police Department, Burton Police Department, Chester Township Police Department, Ashtabula Police Department, Conneaut Police Department, and the North Kingsville Police Department.