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Press Release

Convicted Drug Trafficker Charged With Escaping Custody of Federal Bureau of Prisons

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of North Carolina

RALEIGH – United States Attorney Robert J. Higdon, Jr. announces that today, RICHARD R. CEPHAS, of Wilmington, Delaware, was charged in a federal Criminal Complaint with escaping from the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in Butner, North Carolina on or about April 1, 2020.  The Criminal Complaint was authorized by United States Magistrate Judge Robert T. Numbers, II, and supported by the sworn affidavit of a Deputy United States Marshal.  The United States Marshals Service (USMS) has been investigating CEPHAS’ alleged escape since he was discovered missing on April 2.

In June 2017, CEPHAS was sentenced by the United States District Court for the District of Delaware to a term of 66 months in federal prison – for his violation of Title 21, United States Code, Sections 841 (a)(l) and (b)(l)(A) and 846, Conspiracy to distribute, and to possess with intent to distribute, five kilograms or more of cocaine.  The conviction and sentence resulted from a long-term High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) federal wiretap investigation spearheaded by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Drug Trafficking Task Force in Delaware.  More about that investigation here.

As alleged in the publicly filed affidavit attached to the Criminal Complaint, CEPHAS had been serving the remainder of his prison sentence at the Federal Prison Camp in Butner, NC.  On April 2, 2020, CEPHAS was placed in an escape status by the BOP following his absence from a bed count conducted by staff at the Butner facility.  At the time of his absence, CEPHAS was not authorized to be away from the Federal Prison Camp.  He remains in an escape status and law enforcement is working to determine his whereabouts. 

U.S. Attorney Higdon issued the following statement:

“This morning, members of my office obtained a criminal complaint charging Richard R. Cephas with violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 751(a), escape from the custody of a facility to which he was confined at the Direction of the Attorney General. 

The complaint alleges that Mr. Cephas began planning his escape as early as March 30.  At that time, he had email communication with at least one family member.  Two days later, Mr. Cephas contacted another family member regarding his plan to escape.  When a head count was conducted later that day, and again very early in the morning of April 2, Mr. Cephas was missing.  A search of the entire prison complex resulted in a determination that Mr. Cephas had escaped.

Media reports surfaced late yesterday afternoon in which an individual identifying himself as Richard Cephas during a recorded video interview explained that he escaped from Butner because of health concerns related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and his belief that he is particularly vulnerable because of an ongoing chronic health condition.  This, he explained, justified his escape and warrants a modification to his underlying sentence.  He also argued that it requires the Justice Department to overlook and tolerate his escape.

Let me be clear, Mr. Cephas is a convicted drug trafficker who was sentenced to federal prison for his role in a wide-ranging drug conspiracy which imported cocaine and methamphetamine into the United States from Mexico.  He was convicted in federal court in Delaware and sentenced to a term of imprisonment, which he was serving at the Butner facility.  Mr. Cephas’ decision to escape federal custody is nothing more than an opportunistic move to use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to cut his prison term short.  He is a fugitive from justice and federal law enforcement will find him and bring him to Court here in the Eastern District to answer these charges.

Should Mr. Cephas choose to turn himself in, he may do so at any law enforcement office; to the United States Marshal for the Eastern District of North Carolina (call 919-856-4153); or to the United States Marshal in any federal district in which he is currently located (call 877-WANTED-2).  Otherwise, federal agents will pursue his arrest.

Mr. Cephas will, of course, be extended his Constitutional rights when he appears in Court, including the presumption of innocence and the requirement that the Government prove the escape case against him beyond a reasonable doubt.  We look forward to presenting our case before the Court.

In the meantime, the public should assume that Mr. Cephas is dangerous and they should take caution if they encounter him.  The public should also know that anyone who knowingly harbors or assists Mr. Cephas in avoiding arrest may be in violation of federal law as well.

I want to thank the law enforcement officers who have been tasked with investigating this case and pursuing Mr. Cephas’ arrest.  His decision to escape has increased their already heavy workload and has raised the risk of illness and harm to them by drawing them out into the community at this difficult time.  This is another example of the dedication of law enforcement who serve us no matter the circumstances.”

The charges and allegations contained in the Criminal Complaint are merely accusations.  The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice.  Learn more about the history of our agency at


Updated April 17, 2020