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Jan 26, 2016 2:01 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sean Ludwick Held In Jail Without Bail After Judge Deems Him Serious Flight Risk

Sean Ludwick appeared in State Supreme Court in Suffolk County on Tuesday. Pool Edward Betz
Jan 27, 2016 10:37 AM

Sean Ludwick was sent to the Suffolk County Jail without the possibility of bail on Tuesday after prosecutors convinced a judge that he was a flight risk, saying he made plans to flee the country—including an attempt to buy a sailboat in Puerto Rico, and Googling phrases such as “how do fugitives escape.”

Mr. Ludwick, 42, had been arrested last week on a bench warrant after prosecutors said they had sufficient evidence that he was ready to skip out on $1 million bail while on vacation in Puerto Rico, and he had made plans to purchase a boat large enough to sail to South America from there.

The part-time Bridgehampton resident was accused in August of driving drunk, dragging his passenger out of the car after an accident and leaving him for dead right near his home, on the side of a road in Sag Harbor.

At a hearing in 1st District Court in Central Islip on Tuesday, State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho deemed Mr. Ludwick a serious flight risk.

“When I set bail at $1 million, I never contemplated the possibilities heard here today,” he said. “There is no bail package to ensure his return to court.”

The judge did note that he would return the $1 million bail that Mr. Ludwick had posted two days after the accident occurred, which secured his earlier release, because he never actually did leave U.S. soil.

Escape Or ‘Wish List’?

The alleged attempt by Mr. Ludwick to flee the country was thwarted last week when he was arrested by Southampton Town Police, with assistance from U.S. Marshals, on January 19 at his home on Brick Kiln Road. Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said Mr. Ludwick had already wired money to Puerto Rico to purchase a 50-foot Beneteau sailboat for $385,000 cash.

Mr. Ludwick’s actions and whereabouts were being closely monitored by authorities, Mr. Spota said after the hearing, and he had plans to return to the island on January 21 to meet with a boat broker and complete the purchase of the boat.

On Tuesday, Mr. Ludwick stood next to his attorney, Benjamin Brafman, who attempted to paint him in a different light, saying the plan to buy the boat was part of a “wish list” of activities he wanted to do with his children before he could potentially be locked up in prison for years.

With Mr. Spota by his side, the chief of the D.A.’s Vehicular Crimes Bureau, John Scott Prudenti, countered that Mr. Ludwick’s intent had not been to spend time with his family—in fact, quite the opposite.

Mr. Ludwick stared blankly as Mr. Prudenti produced a shopping list of searches on Google from Mr. Ludwick’s phone between January 5—the day after his last arraignment, at which he was told he could serve up to 32 years in prison if convicted of the two most serious felony charges against him in his indictment, aggravated vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of a fatal accident—and January 19, when he was arrested.

Among them were: “10 secrets to being a good liar,” “Percentage of bail jumpers caught,” “Does Venezuela extradite to the U.S.?” “Can I leave on a cruise with an arrest warrant?” “5 countries with no extradition,” “Why do fugitives get caught,” “How do fugitives escape,” “Seeking citizenship in Venezuela,” “Hitchhiking from Puerto Rico to Venezuela,” and hundreds of others.

Mr. Ludwick’s main focus was on Venezuela, although there were searches that included Brazil and Nicaragua, Mr. Prudenti noted.

“This all takes place after the arraignment and escalates into ‘how to sail,’” Mr. Prudenti told the judge, adding that Mr. Ludwick’s final search was how to seek citizenship in Venezuela, which was just hours before he was arrested at his home on January 19.

He had even searched something along the lines of “billionaires who are fugitives,” Mr. Spota said with a smirk after the hearing.

Authorities believe that Mr. Ludwick planned to travel to a Caribbean island, most likely Aruba or Curacao, from which he would sail to Venezuela.

‘Element Of Luck’

There was really also an “element of luck” that allowed authorities to understand Mr. Ludwick’s exact plans, Mr. Spota said after the hearing.

Mr. Ludwick had asked a concierge at the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in Puerto Rico to schedule him for sailing lessons, but only after he complained that the hotel was not exactly up to par with the hotels that he himself had built in the continental United States.

“The first sailing instructor was very, very concerned for his own safety, because of the questions that he was asking about the Coast Guard, passports and other questions,” Mr. Spota explained, adding that the instructor was nervous that Mr. Ludwick would hijack his boat and leave him in the water. “That is why he calls the second person.”

That second sailing instructor happened to be an “active” FBI agent—although he was “not working in his official capacity,” Mr. Prudenti said. Once the FBI agent became aware of the charges against Mr. Ludwick through a Google search, he contacted a friend who is a detective at the Southampton Town Police Department.

It is not clear when the FBI agent started working undercover, as there are text message conversations between him and Mr. Ludwick about the purchase of the boat and whether Mr. Ludwick would pay for it in cash to get a better price.

Mr. Brafman argued that, according to the text messages, it was actually the “undercover agent” who first suggested the prospect of buying the boat with cash. “If the conversation included how far this boat could sail, it doesn’t mean that,” Mr. Brafman said. “There is a measure of fantasizing when you have a lot of time on your hands—it doesn’t mean he would do it.”

Judge Camacho noted that the court had originally become aware of Mr. Ludwick’s ideas after an employee of the hotel left him a message “in broken English” about his sailing lessons, though the court at the time thought he had said “singing lessons.”

“Hours before he was arrested by the U.S. Marshals, this defendant demonstrated himself to be a flight risk,” Mr. Prudenti said in court on Tuesday.

He would not just wire money to Puerto Rico without the intention of returning there, Mr. Spota said. If it were not for the request of the district attorney’s office to take Mr. Ludwick into custody, the D.A. added, “he would be on that sailboat right now on his way to Venezuela.”

Judge Camacho said it made no sense that Mr. Ludwick would inquire about purchasing an almost half-million-dollar boat and sailing lessons when he is facing such a lengthy prison sentence.

He will remain remanded as he awaits trial.

Mr. Ludwick will next appear in court in Central Islip on April 14 for conference purposes.

Attorney: Ludwick
Was Going For Help

Mr. Brafman also offered condolences on behalf of Mr. Ludwick to the family of Paul Hansen, the 53-year-old father of two who died in the crash, at the hearing on Tuesday. Family members were sitting in the back row of the courtroom for the hearing.

At the same time, there was a new characterization of the crash and its immediate aftermath offered by Mr. Brafman at the hearing.

Southampton Town Police had said they found Mr. Ludwick standing next to his severely damaged Porsche convertible on Woodvale Street, about a quarter mile from the accident scene on Rolling Hill Court East, following the accident on August 30. He was heading in the direction of his Bridgehampton home, and police traced fluid trails and gouged pavement from damaged rims on the car back to the accident scene.

Mr. Ludwick’s blood-alcohol level was found to be 0.18 percent, more than double the legal limit, four hours after the accident occurred.

Mr. Brafman told the judge that, immediately after the accident occurred, Mr. Ludwick was not actually fleeing the scene. Rather, he said, his client was on his way to a nearby fire station to get help. The reason he could not call for help was that his phone was in the glove compartment, which was damaged in the crash and thus could not be opened, the attorney said of his client.

Mr. Brafman also said that Mr. Ludwick had only two choices: to ring the doorbell of Mr. Hansen’s home, where, he said, there were two sleeping children and no parent—or to get help.

“I would disagree that fleeing the scene of the accident is trying to get help,” Mr. Brafman said.

Rather than put Mr. Ludwick in jail, Mr. Brafman asked that the judge order him to be held on house arrest with electronic monitoring and $3 million bond. “I accept the fact they are violent crimes, but they are not intentional, where he went into a bank and shot someone,” he said.

Mr. Prudenti said he found Mr. Brafman’s explanation of the accident “offensive and incredulous.”

When Mr. Ludwick was first approached by police after the accident, standing next to his broken-down Porsche, he was asked if there had been anyone else in the car, Mr. Prudenti said. Mr. Ludwick’s first comment to police was: “Don’t worry about him,” he noted.

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Mr Ludwick will certainly make some VERY close friends in the coming decades while incarcerated.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Jan 26, 16 2:06 PM
2 members liked this comment
Thank you, captain.
By kiddio (16), SOUTHAMPTON on Jan 27, 16 2:42 AM
He has also made enough enemies here!
By disappointed (96), wainscott on Jan 26, 16 3:03 PM
Noted: there are FBI agents hiding plain sight everywhere, and they're all friends with a detective at the Southampton town police department.
As happy as I am that this scum is back in jail, some things just don't add up here.
The FBI agent is "active," but not working in an official capacity, so he wasn't undercover trying to nab Ludwick, yet he has a job as a sailing instructor and had boats for sale in PR? And he had ties to the Hamptons? How much time off do FBI agents get? So odd.

Also, ...more
By Brandon Quinn (191), Hampton Bays on Jan 27, 16 11:08 AM