- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

MONACO (AP) An American jailed for the arson death of billionaire banker Edmond Safra staged a daring escape by sawing through the bars of his Monaco cell but was quickly recaptured yesterday.
Ted Maher, a former Green Beret who had worked as Mr. Safra's nurse, was caught in a hotel in the French Riviera city of Nice hours after his overnight jailbreak.
Maher, originally from Auburn, Maine, and an Italian inmate escaped Tuesday night after sawing through two of the 16 bars on their cell window. They lowered themselves into a garden below, apparently using a long strand of plastic bags tied together, authorities said.
Maher, 44, and Luigi Ciardecci stuffed their beds to fool guards, who noticed their absence at breakfast, Monaco prosecutor Daniel Ferdet told reporters.
Police caught Maher at a hotel in Nice, acting on "a clue from a Monaco witness," the prosecutor said without elaborating.
Maher made at least one phone call to relatives from the hotel, and police were investigating if the men had had outside help in their escape.
Ciardecci, who was awaiting trial for armed robbery, was still at large.
Maher began serving a 10-year arson sentence late last year after a sensational court drama that gripped the U.S. and European tabloid press.
Dubbed Monaco's "trial of the century," by a local newspaper, the case brought a new kind of attention to the tiny Mediterranean principality, best known for sumptuous casinos, Formula One racing and tax breaks that attract the world's rich and famous.
Maher admitted on the stand to setting the Dec. 3, 1999, fire that killed Mr. Safra, the 67-year-old founder and principal stock owner of the Republic National Bank of New York.
Mr. Safra, who had Parkinson's disease, had paid Maher $600 a day to provide him constant care.
But Maher said he never expected the blaze in Mr. Safra's Monaco penthouse to rage out of control, but only to advance a bizarre plan to ingratiate himself with his employer.
He said he started the blaze in a small wastebasket, expecting it to set off a fire alarm that would bring help and allow him to reap the credit for saving the billionaire.
The fire also killed one of Mr. Safra's other nurses, Vivian Torrente.
Donald Manasse, a Monaco lawyer who represented Maher in the trial, said he could not immediately comment on reports of his client's escape and capture.


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