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The Navy sent him to prison for smuggling explosives, then he escaped

A judge advocate office gavel. (Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Boutte/U.S. Air Force)

A U.S. Navy sailor on the lam for almost 15 years after escaping military prison in Washington state where he was beginning a three-year sentence for trying to smuggle explosives into the country could be in South Florida, officials say.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service asked the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office in the Keys Thursday to share a “wanted” poster for 52-year-old James Tait Praefke.

Adam Linhardt, spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said Thursday night that federal investigators have reason to believe that Praefke “might be coming to the Keys, could be in the Keys or could have been in the Keys and left.”

Linhardt had no other information on the case.

The Associated Press reported in November 2005 that Praefke escaped from the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station near Oak Harbor, Washington, that month. A month before, he was court-martialed and convicted of attempting to smuggle explosives, stealing ammunition and making false statements, the wire service reported.

He was arrested in February 2005 after a bomb-sniffing U.S. Customs dog detected a hand grenade and other explosives in one of his bags at the airport when he returned from duty in Afghanistan.

His wife at the time told local newspaper the Whidbey News-Times that Praefke was “a terrorist.”

“He never had to explain what he was going to do with the explosives. It’s not just my family that’s in danger. When he gets out, I don’t know what he’ll do,” Keran Praefke said.

The NCIS “wanted” poster shared Thursday said Praefke is “a resourceful survivalist and has knowledge of firearms.”

In the AP’s 2005 story, the wire service quotes the original “wanted” poster that said Praefke espoused pro-militia and anti-government views and was experienced at making bombs.

Investigators now believe Praefke may be “living in seclusion or with like-minded people,” the NCIS poster states, adding that he has family in the Sarasota area.

NCIS agents also say Praefke may have acquired an RV or a boat.

Anyone with information is asked to go to


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