VERO BEACH, Fla. – Authorities say they’ve foiled an elderly businessman’s plan to escape a Florida jail and return to France where he had previously fled in an attempt to avoid child pornography charges.
A tip from outside the jail sparked a two-month investigation of John Manchec, 78, and people he had enlisted in his escape plan, Indian River County Sheriff Eric Flowers said Monday during a news conference.
“Essentially, the plan comes down to this,” Sheriff Flowers said. “These folks that are on the outside are going to wait until Manchec has a doctor's visit, and they are going to take out our corrections staff while he's out at the medical facility.”
The plan called for Manchec’s employees to pepper-spray prison guards and take him to his private plane in nearby Fort Pierce, so that he could fly to France, Flowers said.
Manchec is a multimillionaire with dual U.S. and French citizenship, Flowers said.
Manchec was arrested in 2014 on 49 child pornography charges. Flowers said he left the country to avoid prosecution after posting a nearly $500,000 bond, and moved to his medieval estate in southern France, the Chateau Pechrigal.
France denied U.S. attempts to extradite him, but he was eventually arrested in the Dominican Republic in 2020, and returned to Florida, according to the sheriff.
Manchec requested permission to leave jail in January, saying he suffered from chronic medical conditions, and because he broke his hip and wrist late last year, the sheriff said. The request was denied.
The escape plot centered on an April 12 medical appointment, Flowers said. But at least one of the people involved tipped off law enforcement, allowing investigators to unravel the plot.
An examination of Manchec's jail phone records discovered he used the code words “paint job” while talking with his employees about the plot.
They were to prepare his plane, his 140-foot (42-meter) yacht, a black utility van and other vehicles purchased just for the escape attempt, Flowers said. Manchec even paid the bail for a cellmate, and then allowed them to live in his home. That person helped prepare for the escape, down to packing a suitcase, and his favorite liquor, the sheriff said.
Flowers said the plan was to go “back to his castle in France” and never have to face the charges.
Manchec remains in the Indian River County Jail, with additional charges related to the escape. Two inmates and two employees were also arrested and charged with conspiracy in the escape plot. A lawyer listed on Manchec's court records did not immediately return an email seeking comment on the new charges.
Manchec was originally arrested in December 2014, following a child pornography investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.