By Eric Longabardi
When you think of Newport Beach, the first thing that comes to mind is probably not that this well-to-do beautiful beach side community is a good hideout for a wanted fugitive. I mean where do you hide at Fashion Island?, maybe a cave down at Pirate’s Cove in CDM or under the PCH bridge at Dover?. I kid, but really.
In the case of convicted felon Elishia Windfohr (aka Elishia Espinosa) that is exactly what she did, At least for a while. She hid in plain site for nearly a year until she was captured by bounty hunters who sent her back to jail and ultimately on to State Prison.
Now you may be wondering, you’ve never heard of this case, never read about it in the L.A. Times, The O.C. Register or even the local Daily Pilot, well you would be right, they never uncovered the story, but I have.
Elishia Windfohr according to all accounts is a woman who fit right in amongst the bevy of attractive blonde's (natural or otherwise man-made) here in Newport Beach. According to sources she tooled around town in a Mercedes Benz and fit in well as a would be attractive Newport Beach socialite. But what made her different was that she was not who she seemed or claimed to be. She was playing a game of cat and mouse and staying one step ahead of the law.
Her story is a long and detailed one, but the simple version is this. Windfohr was charged with two felonies in Los Angeles County in mid-2008, her alleged crime was being an “accessory after the fact” in a felony robbery case and that she tried to assist the robber avoid being caught by police. After being charged in the case, she ultimately decided to stop appearing at her court dates, even after posting a one-hundred-fifty thousand dollar bail bond to secure her release while her case progressed.
According to documents reviewed by Newport Beach Now Windfohr stopped appearing before a judge in L.A. County Superior Court in Long Beach on September 2, 2009. She began her life on the lam in Newport Beach and elsewhere. You would think that a wanted fugitive would keep a low profile. Well you would be wrong in Windfhor’s case. She had a way of blending in and standing out all at the same time.
How she did that was to seemingly embark on a new career in what might may surprise you, it did me. She dubbed herself an “investigative journalist” and international human rights crusader. Another funny thing about the sly Ms. Windfohr was, on her facebaook page she listed A&E’s “Dog the Bounty Hunter” as her only her favorite TV show. Which I found not only ironic, but also very funny.
Now I’ve been an investigative journalist for over 20 years and you can check that out all you want. My real claim in life is I’ve never even been arrested for anything in 46 years on the planet. No DUIs, nothing, nada!. OK, I have had a few speeding tickets over the years, and maybe, just maybe if I would have been stopped by police as a teenager in Newport or in college after a party, I might not have passed the field sobriety test I admit. That’s about it for my run-ins with the criminal law system in the USA.
Windfohr on the other hand seems to have amassed a long and detailed record of run-ins with cops while living here in Newport that stretches back even longer than her criminal problems in Los Angeles County.
According to documented sources obtained and reviewed by me I can say she seemed to be well known to Newport Beach Police. In June of 2009 Windfohr was listed as a possible suspect on a rental car that was reported stolen. In November of 2008 Windfohr was a suspect in a grand theft case involving money stolen from her own mother’s residence in Newport Beach. July of 2008 she was stopped for not having a drivers licenses, which had been suspended. In January of the same year she was stopped for having expired vehicle registration. In January, June, and July of 2007 was cited for speeding in Newport Beach.
And to top it off back in August of 2006 she was suspect in a reported battery. She was never charged as the victim decided not to press charges in the case. Now if that’s not enough, Orange County Superior Court records show even more variety with other cases, but I think you’re starting to get the picture I hope.
According to Windfohr’s extensive online postings she had seemingly mastered the art of hiding in plain site. From Twitter to Facebook, The Huffington Post and everywhere in between around the internet, she posted her musings extensively and claimed to be a “crusading investigative journalist”. Her company’s was headquartered in Newport Beach, out of a PO Box in Newport Lido Marine Village area. Some of her web postings hailed her hobbies as “getting justice”. It seemed she had a knack for knowing she had a date with destiny.
Back at the end September of 2009 I got an unsolicited message via a career networking website from Elishia Windfohr. Her bio and resume struck me as very strange. I’d never heard of her and being that there are not a lot of investigative journalists based in Newport Beach I proceeded to check her out. What I found led me to believe she was not who she pretended to be.
As I was "investigating" I began hearing from my sources in the community and on the internet that she was tooling around Corona Del Mar in a Mercedes and was not who she seemed to be. Some called her a 'grifter', some called her much worse. Many complained that they had been scammed or ripped off by her in a variety of ways.
As I come across a lot of stories that just don’t burn hot enough to warrant my extra attention I put her story on the 'story shelf'. Although I thought she was a fairly interesting yarn, I knew nobody in my day job in the national media would be interested. She was much too local to be of interest to anybody except in Newport Beach and the O.C. Occasionally I would check back to see is she had stepped into any bigger trouble.
Only thing was, she was still a wanted fugitive with an arrest warrant and bounty hunters were now on her trail. The end of Elishia Windfohr’s freedom and her life on the lam would soon be coming to an end.
Enter Southern California bounty hunter Jerry Anderson. I haven't met Jerry in person yet, but I'm confident he doesn't look anything like "Dog". Jerry has been chasing bail jumpers for decades here in Southern California and around the world. Jerry who operates out of U.S. Fugitives Service Inc. in Los Angeles was responsible for finally catching up with Windfohrs and sending her back to jail. Jerry told me it took months to finally track down Windfohr’s location to a house in the Seal Beach area of Orange County where she was living and hiding out. Windfohr’s had become very wary of doing anything other than using her Blackberry and was doing everything she could to stay once step ahead of her pursuers.
When Jerry’s leads on Windfohr in Newport Beach led nowhere he finally tracked down Windfohrs by using high tech electronic methods to figure out where she was using her trusted Blackberry. Although Windfohr seemed to know somebody was looking for her and was hot on her trail, that didn't require a PhD considering, a warrant was out for her arrest and wanted posters were on the internet.
When Anderson and his team finally caught up with her she was but a shell over her former Newport self. According to Jerry, she had lost the polished Newport Beach socialite look that had served her so well in the past. Jerry says she had ballooned to well over 200 pounds and looked nothing like the previous photos they had of her.
Anderson told me “I would have never known it was her if I had passed her on the street” but when caught she had little to say other than “I was going to turn myself in” and “how did you guys find me”. Anderson told her "that’s what we do for a living” and took her back to jail.
On December 29, 2010 in an L.A. County courtroom Windfohr “pleaded no contest to one felony count of being an accessory after the fact. She was sentenced to 16 months in state prison on Dec. 29, 2010” according to Los Angeles District Attorney Spokesperson Sandi Gibbons. She was given credit for 256 days in custody and is awaiting transfer to a California State Prison as this column is being written.
I hope that when Windfohr gets out of prison and if she every comes back to Newport Beach, she will decide to stay out of trouble and enjoy what this fine city has to offer. I'd only ask on behalf of Newport Beach residents and everybody else (if I can be so arrogant to do so) that she do it 'the legal honest way'. My suggestion, she could put her seemingly good looks, smarts and mastery of BS into a new profession like becoming a "Cougar" and picking up rich Newport men half her age over at 'Wildfish' over on MacCarthur Blvd!