SUZHOU, China – An American fugitive accused of raping his daughter and posting videos of the abuse on the Internet lived openly in China, even enjoying visits from his new wife and registering at a local fitness club under his own name.
U.S. court documents show that Kenneth John Freeman's wife, Maleka May, visited him in China more than once during his time as a fugitive. May, who reportedly married him nine months before he was charged and is believed to have posted the bail that allowed him to flee, was detained in San Francisco on Thursday as she got off a plane from China.
Information provided Saturday by the Powerhouse Gym also provided some clues about the months Freeman lived in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou.
Freeman, one of America's 15 most wanted men, was captured Tuesday after more than a year on the run while trying to enter Hong Kong from China using his own passport.
Staff at the Powerhouse Gym in Suzhou recognized Freeman immediately from his photo posted on the Department of Justice Web site. Gym computer records showed he registered under the name John Freeman and listed a Suzhou mobile phone number as a contact. Calls to the telephone number were answered by a recorded message that said the phone was turned off.
Gym patrons said Freeman worked out almost every day and seemed friendly. One man said the fugitive had something of the air of a celebrity about him.
"He was the biggest guy in there. We figured he was some famous bodybuilder who had come to China to work," said Tom Stern of Berkeley, Calif., a gym regular in the city to study Chinese.
Freeman had been living in Seattle when he fled the United States last year, months after his 17-year-old daughter told her mother he had assaulted her four years earlier. Video of the abuse is among the most widely downloaded child pornography videos in recent years.
Freeman, who scuffled with the four Hong Kong police officers who tried to detain him, has been charged in Washington state with three counts of rape of a child and jumping bail. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted. He also faces federal charges of producing and distributing child pornography.
Police in Hong Kong said Freeman, 44, worked as a computer specialist at an American-based company in the Suzhou, a high-tech manufacturing hub about a two-hour drive from Shanghai.
Stern and other gym members said Freeman would arrive at the gym dressed casually but neatly and carrying a briefcase and mobile phone. They described him as serious about working out, saying he often partnered another American man whose identity wasn't immediately known.
"He looked really clean cut, like a successful businessman," Stern said, adding that Freeman seemed to enjoy joking around with the female attendants at the club.
A restaurant hostess who worked in the same building as the gym said she saw Freeman arrive virtually every evening, usually at about 5:30 p.m. and that he was sometimes accompanied by up to three other men.
"He didn't seem like a bad person," said the woman, who gave her English name as Selina.
Stern and others said they did not recall having seen Freeman at any of the bars and restaurants where most foreigners gathered.
May, 37, who married Freeman in Las Vegas about nine months before he was charged, was responsible for posting the $50,000 bond that gave him the opportunity to flee, according to the Seattle Post Intelligencer.
She was arrested Thursday for making false statements to federal agents, the Department of Justice's northern California office said.
Reports said Chinese police knew Freeman was in the city and had tipped Hong Kong authorities off to his trip to the autonomous Chinese region, which unlike mainland China has an extradition treaty with the U.S.
On Friday, Freeman, who had been a volunteer reserve sheriff's deputy and a security guard at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, said he wanted to contest the expected U.S. extradition request, according to his lawyer, Stephen Ma.
The case has been adjourned until July 3 to give the U.S. time to prepare a formal request.
Chinese media have not reported on Freeman's case, although some expatriates living in the city said they had read about Freeman's arrest on the Internet.