updated 12/12/2007 9:10:10 PM ET 2007-12-13T02:10:10

A confessed bank swindler who thought he was answering a parole violation summons fled the courthouse after he apparently spied some documents showing he was about to be arrested.

John Earl Petersen, 54, left the federal courthouse, got into his black 2007 Cadillac and drove away on Tuesday afternoon. He stranded his lawyer, Bevan J. Maxey, who had ridden with him to court.

Peterson was cited Nov. 28 for violating the conditions of his supervised release. He reported to a courtroom filled with FBI agents, deputy U.S. marshals and federal probation officers for a hearing, but by the time his case was called, he was gone.

"He showed up, read some papers and then fled the courtroom," Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas O. Rice told the magistrate. "He's no longer here."

It was not clear why Peterson was going to be arrested. A court clerk said documents on the case were being withheld from the public until his arrest. Rice also would not comment on the case, including any new accusations, until Petersen is arrested.

Peterson was the kingpin in a fraud scheme from 1990 to 1996 in which he pocketed $6.5 million, leading to the collapse of Mountain Bank of Whitefish, Mont., according to court documents. He agreed to testify against half a dozen bank officials who accepted bribes from him.

Peterson pleaded guilty to conspiracy, bank fraud and money laundering, and was sentenced to nine years in prison in 1998. The judge cut the term to five years because of his testimony.

Petersen has been living at the home of his 95-year-old aunt in Spokane, apparently using her bank account to lavishly remodel the residence after moving her into a nursing home, according to an affidavit from a federal probation officer.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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