After 14 years, suspect in local businessman's death captured

Lancaster New Era (Lancaster, PA), May 11, 1999

He had parked his blue Mercedes in the driveway. The garage door stood open. If 33-year-old David R. Artz had any premonition of danger, he took no obvious precautions.

The killer or killers walked into his newly purchased home in Coral Springs, Fla. They tied him to a chair. And, with a flurry of gunshots, they took the Manheim Township businessman's life.

The murder of the president and owner of Conestoga Fuels Inc. took place in February 1985, and in the ensuing years it has appeared increasingly unlikely that either of the two men charged with setting up the killing would be held accountable.

One, former Lancastrian Samuel G. Lombardo, died in Florida in 1994. The other, John W. Kramer Sr., formerly of York, moved to Costa Rica.

But now, 14 years after the crime, immigration agents in Atlanta, Ga., have arrested Kramer as he re-entered the country for medical care.

Agents took the 68-year-old former restaurant owner into custody at Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta on Feb. 24, after a routine computer check identified him as a fugitive sought by Florida police.

Kramer posted $15,000 bail, surrendered his passport and currently is under court order to remain in the Atlanta metropolitan area, law enforcement authorities said.

Florida prosecutor Scott Dressler hopes to extradite Kramer to Coral Springs later this month to face charges - first filed in 1990 - that he and Lombardo arranged for the businessman's death in an effort to collect $1.75 million in insurance.

"He presently has been charged with (racketeering), grand theft and insurance fraud," said Dressler, who heads the Economic Crimes division of the State Attorney's office in Broward County, Fla.

Kramer maintains he had nothing to do with the death of Artz.

His position is "that he is not guilty, that he was not involved," his attorney, Suellen Fleming, said.

The capture of Kramer revives a complex murder case that began shortly after Artz purchased Conestoga Fuels from his father, Roy, in 1983, according to a criminal charges made public by Florida officials in 1990.

A year after that sale, Kramer and Lombardo offered to buy the company from Artz for $1.5 million, payable three years later.

Artz agreed and turned over ownership in April 1984.

Within a month, the new owners began buying life insurance on Artz, the key person needed to run the company, according to the 1990 criminal charges.

Over a seven-month period, they obtained three policies, worth $1.75 million, all naming a newly created corporate holding company as beneficiary.

At the same time, the pair arranged the transfer of $140,000 to an advertising company and investment firm owned by Kramer associates, Florida officials said. They also got salaries, cars and credit cards from Conestoga Fuels.

Artz was shot to death two months after the final insurance purchase. Six days later, insurance companies received requests for payment.

The companies hired Lancaster attorney Alvin Lewis and retired city detective Calvin Duncan to investigate the claims.

Their probe produced thousands of pages of evidence, filed in a 1986 civil suit, that charged Kramer and Lombardo had set up the murder-for-insurance scheme against Artz - and others as well.

Before the case went to trial, Kramer and Lombardo dropped their insurance claim.

Florida prosecutors, however, took up the evidence gathered by the insurance investigators, conducted their own investigation and in August 1990 filed criminal charges against both men.

Lombardo was taken into custody, but Kramer already had fled the country, the State Attorney's office said at the time.

Fleming, Kramer's attorney in Jonesboro, Ga., said her client did not flee.

"He didn't know charges were filed against him since 1990," she said. "It's fair to say Florida has not pursued him."

The attorney declined to discuss any matters concerning Kramer, other than the extradition proceedings.

Court documents, however, describe him as a practitioner of Scientology, known as "Father John," who converted Artz to the religion and used its doctrines to influence his business decisions.

Kramer and Lombardo had run similar insurance schemes, most unsuccessful, against other business owners during the previous two decades, Florida prosecutors charged in 1990.

They described repeated attempts on the life of an Illinois businessman in the early 1970s after Kramer insured his life; the staged death of a York contractor for insurance proceeds; the attempted murder of a stone business owner, who had agreed to a partnership with Kramer, and the gunshot death of Roy Ham, a York man, after Kramer insured his life.

The Illinois businessman survived more than seven attempts to kill him, including dynamite under a porch that failed to detonate and an explosion in an adjoining bedroom.

The return of Kramer to the U.S. comes at a fortuitous time for police in Coral Springs, a suburban community 30 miles north of Miami.

In 1998, a new police chief there ordered detectives to work aggressively on long-dormant cases.

Detective Nick Iarriccio, who inherited the Artz case, had notified Patti Artz, the slain man's widow, in January that he intended to re-open the case. A month later, Kramer arrived in Atlanta.

For Mrs. Artz and company vice president Brad Singer, attention to the case brings a risk of tarnishing a company reputation that they have worked hard to rebuild.

After the death of Artz, many potential area customers viewed the chemical additives firm with skepticism.

"When I'd make a sales call, they'd say, "Aren't you the company where the owner was killed?' " Singer said. "I'd have to spend half the time explaining what happened."

Only during the past two years, he said, has the question dropped out of conversations.

For the Artz family, the news that Kramer is in custody brings satisfaction.

"It's wonderful news," said David Artz's mother, Becky. "I had just about given up on the law."

Added his sister Pat: "Now maybe some justice will be done."

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