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Cat and Mouse: Drug Suspect Escapes by Slipping GPS Unit on His Pet

U.S. marshals are trying to catch up with a cocaine-smuggling suspect who slipped away from house arrest in Virginia by putting his court-ordered GPS monitor on his cat, according to court documents.

The man, identified as Diego Martinez-Espinoza, a Mexican national who is 24 or 25 and was in the country illegally, is believed to have fled Virginia and perhaps the U.S., authorities said.

Martinez-Espinoza disappeared around March 1 as he was on house arrest in Highland Springs, Virginia, in Henrico County, awaiting trial on charges of possession of more than 40 pounds of cocaine with intent to distribute, according to a complaint the Drug Enforcement Administration filed this month in U.S. District Court in Richmond.

Martinez-Espinoza was shackled to a GPS monitor, which duly kept pinging his presence at home — or so Henrico County authorities thought. On March 2, the tracker ran out of power, according to the complaint, and when the landlord went to check on Martinez-Espinoza, he was nowhere to be found. But his cat was there, wearing the GPS unit, which could have been chirping at it for as long as three days, according to the complaint.

The DEA said Martinez-Espinoza was able to snooker authorities by training them over several weeks.

Numerous times throughout February, his tracker pinged that it had been tampered with, but each time authorities checked up on him, Martinez-Espinoza was where he was supposed to be and the tracker was in place, according to the complaint.

This led to "a belief on the part of the person assigned to monitor Martinez-Espinoza that the GPS unit was malfunctioning," and the court even issued him a replacement. So when the replacement unit ran out of power on March 1, his monitors didn't immediately go to his home.

Investigators said in court documents that Martinez-Espinoza is known to have associates in North Carolina — including a girlfriend — but they haven't been able to find him for the last month and a half.

A new warrant for his arrest was sealed, but police in Chesterfield County, where Martinez-Espinoza was originally nabbed on New Year's Eve, confirmed Monday that he was being sought on additional felony charges of violating the terms of his pretrial release.