Love, American Style

Illegal immigrant Jon Vaupel is not from Mexico, but he's a borderline case.

None of those seemed to support his claim that he was of good moral character -- a requirement before he could get a domestic-violence victim's visa. His felony charges in Jeffco didn't help, either.

But even when an illegal immigrant qualifies for expedited removal, the federal government won't deport someone with charges pending against him in this country. So in January 2005, Vaupel was transferred to the Jeffco jail to await prosecution on those charges.

Jon Vaupel
Jon Vaupel

Vaupel had lost a wife, but now he had a new mate. A cellmate.

Tattooed, 37-year-old Donald Sturm was no stranger to the system. Back in 1994, Sturm had been sentenced to eighteen years in prison for aggravated robbery. Out on parole, with time still hanging over his head, Sturm walked into a Key Bank in Colorado Springs on February 13, 2004, and handed the teller a note.

"This is a robbery. No bait bills, no dye packs, no alarms. I have a gun," the note read.

"More, all of it, give me the other drawer. I want everything. I know you've got more," Sturm told the teller as he filled a plastic newspaper bag with $4,489.

Less than a month later, Sturm walked into another Key Bank in Colorado Springs and handed a teller a note, then walked out the door with $5,179.

On July 16 of that year, he walked into a Compass Bank, also in Colorado Springs, with yet another note: "Just stay calm, this is a robbery, give me all of the money, no dye packs."

That heist netted Sturm $4,142.

A few months later, Sturm walked into a First Bank in Colorado Springs and asked to see the manager, then pulled out a knife and robbed the bank of $19,511.

On December 6, 2004, he walked into a Colorado Springs Credit Union just down the street from one of his previous heists. "God, it's fucking cold out there," Sturm said before sitting on the counter and sliding over, pointing a semi-automatic handgun at the teller. "I want everything out of your drawers."

The teller complied. "I hope you all die," Sturm said, as he left with $30,853.

Photos from the banks' surveillance cameras were released to the media, leading to several anonymous tips. Sturm was living with a woman who overheard him talking about a robbery on the phone; she told her sister; her sister called the Colorado Springs police.

Sturm was sent to the Jefferson County jail, which has a contract to bunk some federal prisoners.

Evicted from the home she and Vaupel had rented, Stacy Schwab was allowed to take their boy to Texas, where they moved in with her mother.

Meanwhile, Mario Ortiz had gone to Washington, D.C., one of ten people hand-picked by the regional director of Citizenship and Immigration Services to act as a special assistant to the new field-operations manager. Ortiz was to assist in citizenship policy development, "quite an honor," says Sharon Rummery, CIS spokeswoman.

Vaupel knew that his wife was not supposed to leave the Dallas area, but he suspected she was off in D.C. with Ortiz. He'd hired a private investigator before to snap photos of them together, but most of his money was gone.

Vaupel says he asked Sturm if he knew someone who could tail his wife and gather evidence against her for an anticipated custody battle.

But Sturm says Vaupel was looking for more than evidence: He was looking for a hit man to murder his wife and Ortiz.

Both agree that Vaupel gave Sturm a map to the house in Dallas, which Sturm would pass to Robert, a friend and former bounty hunter. Sturm said that when Robert got in touch with Sturm, he'd use the code words "Six Door" -- Sturm's nickname.

While Vaupel sat in jail, he heard that the district attorney wanted to make a deal with him, and the longer he waited, the better the deal became.

David Jones, Vaupel's attorney, didn't think prosecutors had enough evidence to convict Vaupel of forging documents, particularly considering that their key witness was Schwab, who had credibility problems. He was right: By February 2005, Vaupel's felony forgery charges, his misdemeanor harassment and his misdemeanor menacing charges were all dropped in exchange for a guilty plea to disorderly conduct.

"It's unusual in Jefferson County to get a plea bargain that's that disparate," says Jones.

With that case resolved, Vaupel was turned over to the feds once again. While in the Jeffco jail, he'd made a last effort to stay in the United States, filing a habeas corpus writ requesting a hearing to determine the legality of his detention. Vaupel already owed his immigration attorneys more than $27,000, and though they'd agreed to keep tabs on his petition to stay in the country as the abused spouse of a U.S. citizen, Vaupel was on his own with the writ.

As he left the Jeffco jail, Vaupel shook Sturm's hand and gave him some documents and photos that he asked Sturm to give to a deputy whose shift hadn't started yet. He also says he told Sturm to forget about the job he'd wanted Robert to do.

On March 30, 2005, a man showed up at the immigration detention facility in Aurora and asked to see Vaupel.

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