The FBI thought it was closing in on Joran Van der Sloot in the notorious Natalee Holloway case, paying him at least $15,000 in a sting operation, federal officials said Wednesday.
But when the agency delayed his arrest to help build a murder case, he took the money and headed for Peru, where authorities say he now has confessed to killing a different young woman.
Federal law enforcement officials and a private investigator say the work on Holloway's disappearance was revived about six weeks ago when van der Sloot reached out to someone close to the Alabama teenager's mother and requested $250,000 in exchange for disclosing the location of the young woman's body on the island of Aruba.
Aruba authorities have been frustrated in their efforts to prosecute van der Sloot because they have been unable to find her remains.
The federal officials said Wednesday that Holloway's mother contacted authorities in Alabama, and the FBI set a sting operation in motion targeting van der Sloot. He has since been charged in Alabama with trying to extort money from the family.
Some $15,000 was wired to a bank account van der Sloot controlled, officials added.
Bo Dietl, a private investigator, said van der Sloot received an additional $10,000 in cash. In April, shortly after van der Sloot's father died, van der Sloot contacted an attorney for the Holloway family, John Kelly, and offered to explain how Holloway died in exchange for $250,000, Dietl said.
Dietl said that at a May 10 meeting in Aruba, Kelly offered van der Sloot $25,000 upfront, with the rest to be delivered once the body was found.
"He said he pushed Natalee Holloway, her head hit a rock," Dietl said. He said the father was told the body was buried "near a construction site near their house." But the information proved to be false, said the private investigator.
"He's lied so much, we don't know," said Dietl, who has been working with Kelly on the Holloway case.
Cases began five years apart
Van der Sloot was the last person seen with Holloway before she vanished during a high school graduation trip to the Dutch Caribbean island on May 30, 2005. He was arrested but has been released twice because of a lack of evidence.
He is being held in Peru in connection with the May 30 killing of 21-year-old business student Stephany Flores, the daughter of a Peruvian circus impresario and former race car driver. She was found beaten to death, her neck broken, in the 22-year-old Dutchman's hotel room. Police said the two met playing poker at a casino.
Peru's chief police spokesman, Col. Abel Gamarra, told The Associated Press on Monday that van der Sloot had confessed to killing Flores. A Dutch newspaper has quoted a family lawyer as saying the confession may have been coerced.
For five years, van der Sloot has remained the key suspect in Aruba for the disappearance of Holloway, an 18-year-old from Alabama.
Van der Sloot, who was a fixture on true crime shows and in tabloids after Holloway's disappearance, crossed into Chile on Monday, roughly a day after leaving the Lima hotel. The day of his arrest in Chile, he was charged in the United States with trying to extort $250,000 from Holloway's family.
The federal criminal complaint in that case, filed in Birmingham, Ala., alleged an arrangement to pay the money for disclosing the location of Holloway's body. According to a sworn statement, van der Sloot got a partial payment of $15,000 wired to a Netherlands bank soon after, but the complaint does not say where the money came from.
Trip to crime scene?
The U.S. government's involvement in the payment to van der Sloot was first reported by the New York Post. Law enforcement officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the murder investigation in Aruba is still under way. In Birmingham, Ala., FBI spokesman Paul Daymond and a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office, Peggy Sanford, declined to comment.
Peruvian police were planning plan to take Van der Sloot to visit the crime scene, officials said Tuesday.
They also said police have until the weekend to file criminal charges against the Dutchman.
The beating death occurred exactly five years Holloway disappeared in Aruba — an assumed death in which Van der Sloot has long been considered the prime suspect by authorities on the Dutch Caribbean island.
It wasn't clear if Van der Sloot has obtained private counsel, and there was no immediate word from either him or his family about the reported confession.
A high-ranking Peruvian government official told NBC news on Monday that van der Sloot had confessed to the murder.
Several Peruvian media outlets also reported, without identifying their sources, that he admitted to killing Flores in a rage after learning she looked up information about his past on his laptop without permission.
The newspaper La Republica said Van der Sloot tearfully confessed, in the presence of a prosecutor and a state-appointed attorney, to grabbing Flores by the neck and hitting her because she had viewed images about the Aruba case on his computer while he was out buying coffee.
Meanwhile, the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant quoted the suspect's lawyer in the Netherlands as suggesting the confession may have been coerced.
"Joran told his mother crying Monday that he was being interrogated under reasonably barbaric conditions," the paper quoted Bert De Rooij saying. "He said the police were trying to force him to confess."
Under such conditions, he said, the "confession was possibly false."
Van der Sloot's mother, who apparently lives in Aruba, could not be located for comment. The suspect's father, a former judge and attorney on Aruba, died in February.
Beaten to death
Flores, the daughter of a Peruvian circus empresario and former race car driver, was found beaten to death, her neck broken, in the 22-year-old Dutchman's hotel room. Police said the two met playing poker at a casino.
The chief of Peru's criminal police, Gen. Cesar Guardia, said the crime scene visit at the TAC hotel would most likely occur Wednesday. A psychological exam of the suspect is also required before a judge can decide whether he should stand trial.
Asked about the alleged confession, a brother of the victim, Enrique Flores, had no comment. "What we as a family want to do now is rest a bit and let this follow the judicial path," he said.
Video from hotel security cameras shows the two entering Van der Sloot's room together at 5 a.m. Sunday and Van der Sloot leaving alone four hours later with his bags. Police say Van der Sloot also left the hotel briefly at 8:10 a.m. and returned with two cups of coffee and bread purchased across the street at a supermarket.
Murder convictions carry a maximum of 35 years in prison in Peru, and it was not immediately clear if a confession could lead to a reduced sentence.
Van der Sloot remains the key suspect in Aruba for the 2005 disappearance of Holloway, an 18-year-old from Alabama who was on the resort island celebrating her high school graduation. He was arrested twice in the case — and gave a number of conflicting confessions, some in TV interviews — but was freed for lack of evidence.
Holloway's father, Dave, told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Tuesday that Van der Sloot should tell all he knows about the disappearance of his daughter. "Hopefully this is his last victim."
The girl's mother, Beth Holloway, said her heart and prayers were with the Flores family.