Fugitive in fatal 1977 Winnipeg crash faces U.S. deportation

After more than 30 years on the run, a fugitive may be heading back to Manitoba.

Robert Fotti was convicted in 1980 but fled to the United States before starting his sentence

Man who killed 2 in 1977 crash still hasn’t served sentence

CBC News: Winnipeg at 6:00

8 years ago
After more than 30 years on the run, a fugitive may be heading back to Manitoba. CBC’s I-Team reports. 2:28

After more than 30 years on the run, a fugitive may be heading back to Manitoba.

On April 10, 1977 Robert Fotti ran a red light in Winnipeg. He collided with the motorcycle of 42-year-old Gordon Hochman and his 17-year-old son, Stewart, killing them both.

Hochman’s wife, Marlene, and other son, Larry, were on a motorcycle close behind and witnessed the aftermath of the crash.

Fotti, who had an extensive record of traffic violations, was charged with dangerous driving, and in 1978, was found not guilty. The Crown appealed the decision and won. Fotti then took his case to the Supreme Court of Canada, which upheld the conviction.

In 1980, Fotti was sentenced to nine months in jail but never showed up to his hearing. It was 10 years before Fotti would surface again.

In 1990, CBC reporter Ross Rutherford confronted a man in a Texas parking lot. The man claimed he was Dr. Robert Fox, a salesman selling a machine he said could cure cancer, but records indicated the man was not who he claimed to be.

CBC used legal documents, handwriting analysis, hidden camera footage and a vehicle sales record to conclude Robert Fox was actually Robert Fotti.

"We don’t believe you’re Robert Fox. We believe you’re Robert Fotti from Winnipeg. Is that true?" Rutherford asked as he approached Fox.

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"I have nothing to say at the moment," Fox answered, after considering the question for several seconds.

"I will have to consult with counsel on this," Fox added after more questions from Rutherford.

Court records would later confirm Robert Fotti had changed his name to Robert Fox in the Bahamas in 1980.

After he was identified, CBC was informed Robert Fotti could not be sent back to Manitoba from the United States because dangerous driving was not an extraditable offence at the time.

Fotti, who entered the U.S. illegally, applied to remain under an immigration amnesty and was granted resident alien status shortly after.

In the years that followed, Fotti drew the attention of law enforcement in Texas. Sgt. Jason Price, of the Jacksonville Police Department, told KETK, an NBC affiliate in Texas, Fotti was a "conman" who made tens of thousands of dollars giving legal advice to criminals through his Matthew 25 Mission and House of Israel.

In 2008, police in Texas obtained a search warrant for the House of Israel and found illegal prescription drugs, computers and forged government documents.

Fotti was convicted of tampering with government records and sentenced to nine months in jail. The conviction resulted in Fotti losing his resident alien status, opening the door for his deportation back to Canada.

He began serving his sentence in late 2012, and, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, was set to be released Tuesday. 

According to Manitoba Justice, upon his release, Fotti will face an immigration hearing. If that hearing decides to deport him, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the RCMP will coordinate bringing Fotti back to Canada.

If Fotti is returned to Canada, according to the Winnipeg police, he would be arrested by the warrant apprehension unit in relation to his 1980 conviction.

In letters sent to CBC, Robert Fox said the accident "caused me to go on a spiritual quest, ultimately becoming a missionary."

He added, "I left Canada due to the death threats and government corruption."

Fotti said he is "known from coast to coast and has friends all over the United States. There is a tidal wave of support for me as I fight the various attempts to frame me."

He did not respond to questions about his possible return to Canada.

A spokesperson for the Hochman family told CBC if Fotti is brought back to Canada, they are prepared to let justice run its course.