Samuel Israel III disappeared last week hours before he was supposed to start a 20-year federal prison sentence for bilking investors in his Bayou hedge funds out of $450 million. His sentence, handed down two months ago, also included paying back $300 million.
Investigators doubted a suicide almost from the moment they found Israel's 2006 GMC Envoy on the Bear Mountain Bridge over the Hudson River on June 9, though the ominous message "Suicide is Painless" was scrawled into the dust and pollen on its hood. The phrase is the title of the theme song for the "MASH" TV show, and was sung during a fake suicide in the original movie.
"We're ruling out a suicide and considering it a fugitive investigation," U.S. Marshal Joseph Guccione said Monday. "Like all fugitive cases, we're tracking every lead."
He did not mention anything specific that suggested Israel is still alive, saying only, "The evidence doesn't point to a suicide."
State police confirmed they have stopped searching the river for Israel's body.
Guccione wouldn't say whether Israel was still in the United States. He said few calls have come in from the public despite a widely publicized wanted poster.
But he sounded confident that Israel would be caught, saying, "Based on our track record, we always get our man."
Surveillance video from the bridge showed a second car pulling past Israel's SUV and stopping, and investigators are hoping to enhance the indistinct images to see what happened next. Federal officials refuse to confirm reports that the driver of the second car has been found and questioned.
The investors who lost millions with Israel's hedge funds were immediately skeptical of a suicide.
Ross Intelisano, an attorney for 20 such investors, said his clients were saying, "Show me the body, I'll believe it when I see the body.