Murderer escapes Saginaw Jail after reversing credit card payment for bail, police say

SAGINAW, MI — Convicted of murdering a man in Tennessee years ago, a Bay City man is newly charged with escaping from Saginaw County Jail. He did not manage to escape by violence or force, but by a new and bloodless route: credit card fraud.

Thomas E. “Big Tank” Kotewa, 50, was arrested May 10 by Saginaw County Sheriff’s Deputies for third-degree retail fraud and resisting or obstructing police. Prior to that, in January, he was charged in Saginaw County District Court with possession of narcotics, felony in possession of ammunition and having an open can of liquor in a vehicle.

On June 1, a bond of $450 was posted on Kotewa’s behalf, after which he walked free.

“He used a credit card to bond,” Deputy Mike Gomez said. “When he got out he quickly contacted his credit card company and said there was a false charge. They canceled the payment. He basically used a financial transaction device to escape from jail without bail.

Someone acting on Kotewa’s behalf made the payment at one of the kiosks in the prison lobby, operated by a third-party vendor. After Kotewa contacted his credit card company, that company failed to pay the kiosk vendor.

“When they were doing their calculations for the month, they found out and contacted us,” Gomez said. “For a little over a month he was away.

“He knows he quashed that charge,” the deputy continued. “It’s not like he doesn’t have enough money on it.”

Gomez contacted his Bay County counterparts on July 8, who located and arrested Kotewa. On July 14, Saginaw County District Judge Terry L. Clark arraigned Kotewa on new counts of escape pending trial for a misdemeanor and false pretense between $200 and $1,000. The former is a two-year felony, while the latter is a one-year misdemeanor.

As of Wednesday, July 20, Kotewa remains in the Saginaw County Jail on $10,000 or 10% bond.

In December 2005, 33-year-old Kotewa was in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, when he shot and killed 26-year-old LaShawn T. Mims outside an apartment building. Kotewa claimed to have shot Mims while he was arguing with another person. Mims was trying to break up the argument when Kotewa reached out to a woman at the scene and shot her in the head at close range, Oakridger.com reported.

Kotewa in November 2006 pleaded guilty in Anderson County Circuit Court to second degree murder and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

He later appealed his conviction, arguing that there was evidence to support his claims of self-defense. Appeals courts dismissed Kotewa’s appeals.

Kotewa’s prison term in Tennessee ended on September 12, 2018.

Kotewa was on parole in Michigan when he killed Mims, after he was jailed for speaking out and publishing a 1994 Tuscola County felony.

Kotewa is next due in court for his recent escape charge at 11 a.m. on July 25.

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Elaine R. Knight