DMV's facial-recognition software helps catch fugitive after 25 years on the run

Robert F. Nelson escaped from prison in 1992
Posted at 2:59 PM, Jul 11, 2017

A career criminal who turned violent after escaping federal custody and fleeing to Nevada has been brought back to justice.

Robert Frederick Nelson, 64, of North Las Vegas, committed a string of violent felonies in Nevada after he escaped from a Minnesota federal prison in 1992. He is now back in federal custody following his arrest by investigators from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles’ Compliance Enforcement Division.

Nelson applied for a renewal of his Nevada identification card on June 5, 2017. Investigators withheld the card after the DMV’s facial recognition system showed the same person had previously held a Nevada driver’s license in the name of Craig James Pautler.

Investigators found Nelson had a string of felony convictions under both names. He was arrested June 20 at the Decatur DMV office in Las Vegas on charges of failing to register as a felon and an outstanding traffic warrant.  Fraud charges relating to the false identity of Craig Pautler were added later.

Nelson was booked into the Clark County Detention Center. The federal Bureau of Prisons pursued extradition and Nelson was released into the custody of the U.S. Marshals on July 3. He will serve his remaining sentence and additional time for his escape 25 years ago. The Nevada charges were dismissed to facilitate the extradition.

While piecing together Nelson’s and Pautler’s identities, DMV investigators discovered Nelson was arrested by the Secret Service in the late 1980s on multiple counterfeiting charges. He escaped from the Federal Medical Center prison in Rochester, Minnesota, in 1992 and quickly assumed the identity of Craig Pautler, obtaining a Nevada commercial driver license. 

Under his new identity, Pautler began a violent criminal history including multiple robberies with a deadly weapon, possession of stolen property, burglaries and another escape from a Nevada holding facility with the use of a weapon.

At some point during the mid-2000s, Nelson assumed his original identity. He obtained a Nevada ID card under his real name in 2013.