Michael Buhrman, 31, began his career in the nuclear industry after being honorably discharged in from the Navy nuclear program in 2005, where he had worked as a reactor operator and nuclear electronics technician.
After watching the movie, “The Town” featuring Ben Affleck, which features four friends who decide to rob a bank, Buhrman was inspired to feed his adrenaline through a life of crime. The well-paid senior reactor operator started attempting to recruit other workers at the Dresden nuclear power plant in order to form a gang to rob banks “to get back at the system.”
Buhrman did succeed in recruiting at least one other worker, Landon Brittain, a senior reactor operator at the Dresden nuclear power plant. Landon Brittain, 31, had studied at Washington University in St. Louis, and was living in Joliet, Illinois while working at the Dresden nuclear power plant.
From conspirators to criminals
On Wednesday, May 9th, 2012, around 10:00 pm, Michael Buhrman and Landon Brittain were preparing to commit a brazen crime. The plan hatched by Buhrman was to hijack a car and use the stolen vehicle for a planned assault and ultimately a bank robbery in the small town of Hammond, Illinois.
Together, they lurked in Burhman’s Mercedes Benz SUV in the Kohl’s parking lot on the 1000 block of 75th Street in Woodridge, Illinois. When a young woman, Carrie Bradley, exited the store into the parking lot on break from her job, Buhrman leapt into action.
Wearing a realistic mask that resembled a bald old man and armed with a loaded handgun, Buhrman ambushed the victim and pointed the loaded .45-caliber handgun at her chin, telling her to hand over the keys and walk away.
After she gave up the keys, the masked criminal jumped in the victim’s 2000 Pontiac Grand Am, and fled while being pursued by a witness, Lou Canino of Downers Grove, who was notifying authorities of the crime and the direction the stolen car was traveling until it was corralled in a parking lot a few blocks away.
Bradley fled back into the department store after giving Buhrman her keys.
Landon Brittain’s role was to act as a lookout from the SUV and notify Buhrman of the police presence in the area with hand-held radios they carried.
Woodridge officers responded to the call from Lou Canino and stopped the vehicle. When they took Buhrman into custody, he was still wearing the mask and carrying the loaded weapon.
While in custody with authorities, Buhrman confessed that hijacking the car was a stupid thing to do and that he was only “thrill seeking.” After his arrest, Buhrman did not return to the Dresden nuclear power plant.
Buhrman appeared in bond court two days later, on May 11th, 2012, and was released after posting a $200,000 bond.
On Monday, June 4th, 2012, Buhrman formally plead not guilty during a brief appearance before DuPage Judge Kathryn Creswell. The arraignment was attended by Dresden Site Communications Manager Robert Osgood.
The defendant was represented by defense attorney Richard Blass. Despite the prosecutor’s objection, the judge determined that she would grant a request from Buhrman to travel out of state to Nebraska for his 6-year-old son’s birthday party.
Burned by love
In June, Buhrman began dating a young 22-year old woman, whom he gave a false alias with the last name “Brennan” instead of his real name. In July, Buhrman’s girlfriend saw a piece of mail which was mailed to Michael Buhrman, not Michael Brennan. She searched his name on the internet, and found his criminal charges online.
After she realized that he was facing felony charges, she warned prosecutors that Buhrman bragged about access to offshore bank accounts and a private jet, and was planning to flee to Chile. The young woman also testified that she had overheard Buhrman making bank transfers and that he had purchased $100,000 worth of gold.
The Assistant State Attorney Demetri Demopoulos wrote a motion seeking the bail for Buhrman be revoked, and added that “(Buhrman) indicated that he has ‘two defense teams’ who will keep seeking (court) continuances until he is ready to flee.”
Buhrman’s attorney countered the claims made by the girlfriend of the defendant by saying that his client only mean to diversify his retirement portfolio, and that he had only talked of ‘vacationing’ in Chile after the case was closed.
In response to the new findings, Judge Kathryn Creswell tightened bond conditions and restricted Buhrman’s ability to leave his house, but declined to increase or revoke bail. Under the new conditions he was equipped with an ankle monitoring bracelet and only able to leave his home for employment, court, and attorney or doctor visits. He was also barred from going within five miles of any airport, airfield, or heliport.
During the investigation of the crime, federal authorities had Buhrman and a few other co-workers under investigation with the carjacking. Buhrman was also being investigated for other crimes in the area.
$14,000 was deposited into Buhrman’s checking account from a foreign source on September 24th, which he withdrew the next day. Three days after the withdrawal, on September 28th, Buhrman’s GPS monitoring device issued an alert to police that it had been tampered with.
Officers searched Buhrman’s home, finding the ankle monitoring bracelet cut off inside the home, but the defendant had already escaped and police did not find any clues as to his whereabouts. Inside the house, officers noted two slashed window screens, a broken lamp in the master bedroom, some disturbed furniture, a small amount of blood, and several empty boxes which appeared to have contained gold at some time.
Buhrman’s Defense Attorney Richard Blass, attempted to spin the flight of the fugitive in the eyes of the public. “From what I understand, there were signs of foul play,” he told reporters. “His home was in disarray. The back door was left open, and the front door was locked. They did find blood… I’m just scared this was something that occurred that was beyond his control.”
Police reported that Buhrman had staged his Coal City home to make it appear as if he had been abducted or some other foul play had taken place. They noted that nothing was disturbed near the windows where the screens were cut, that nothing inside of the open drawers appeared disturbed, and none of the high-end electronics in the home were missing.
Illinois State Police Sgt. Heather Poerio said, “It looked very staged, like somebody wanted us to believe gold was taken and he was forcibly removed. I felt it was a probation violation.”
Prosecutors continued working on the case and suggested that Buhrman was willfully absent. They requested that Judge Creswell set a date for jury trial in March.
Brittain’s family reported losing contact with him in October of 2012, around a month after Buhrman had removed his monitoring device and ran from his home before police could arrive and apprehend him. U.S. Marshals later reported that Landon Brittain, a former person of interest, had went to South America and not returned. According to a missing-persons flier posted on Facebook by his family, Brittain was last seen in Caracas, Venezuela.
Landon’s half-sister reported him missing to the Joliet Police Department on November 5th, of 2012. Landon’s half-sister contacted a friend of Brittain’s from a gym in Caracas, and told him that Landon had told her that he had fled the country because one of his girlfriends had gotten pregnant.
In subsequent reports she is quoted as saying, “Landon is missing, but it seems it is by choice. He did not notify his friends or his family that he was leaving. He made great efforts to ensure that he could not be found. He took very little from his home, but we are sure he had a large amount of money. Events leading up to his disappearance suggest a vast change in the Landon we all know and love. Sometimes we face things in our life that are difficult and everyone reacts differently to these situations.”
Some of those “great efforts” made by Landon included efforts made by the defendant to prevent family or law enforcement officers from retrieving any information of his whereabouts from his laptops, computers, credit cards and known cellular phones.
Michael Buhrman was convicted in absentia in May 2013, on the charges of charges of aggravated vehicular hijacking and vehicular hijacking, and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
DuPage County Judge Kathryn Creswell did find Buhrman “willfully absent” from court after his disappearance in September and allowed jurors to hear the case without him.
During sentencing, Buhrman’s ex-wife testified how controlling and abusive the defendant had been during their nearly three-year marriage, which had ended in July 2008.
Judge Creswell felt assured that Buhrman had fled to avoid prosecution, and said that a lengthy sentence would be required to protect the public.
The jury only needed 45 minutes to return the verdict of guilty. After the sentencing hearing, Buhrman’s ex-wife cried as she apologized to the victim in the hallway outside of the courtroom, bemoaning that she had not done anything sooner about her ex-husband.
In July of 2013, a DuPage County judge set bail at $1 million for Landon Brittain, 31, who fled to Venezuela after the carjacking instead of facing charges of aggravated vehicular hijacking, vehicular hijacking and obstructing justice. The public defender appointed to the case indicated that Brittain was homeless at this time.
Prosecutors said that after other evidence pointed to his involvement, Brittain had implicated himself in the crime. The fugitive was also accused of lying to police on the day of the carjacking.
Fugitives on the run
Initially, in October of 2012 Brittain and Buhrman had decided to attempt to run away to Santiago, Chile, where they knew some people who could help them settle down and continue their nefarious ways. This plan ultimately fell through, and the fugitives were forced to hide in Venezuela.
Landon Brittain was the first to flee the United States, by flying commercially to Venezuela. Buhrman had to take more precautions due to the public nature of his case, so he fled the United States into Mexico, travelling by bus until he bought a motorcycle and headed to the second largest city in Guatemala, Quetzaltenango.
In Quetzaltenango, Buhrman waited for Jonnathan Morales, aka Jesus Sira, a known Venezuelan racketeer. Landon Brittain, who was awaiting them in Caracas, also contacted Morales.
In partnership with Morales, who was using the alias Jesus ‘Jay’ Sira, Buhrman shipped $500,000 in cash inside of nutritional supplement containers for bodybuilders. They did this by using the Caribbean island St. Barts as a bridge, where they opened the containers, hid the bills inside with the products, and resealed the containers again.
Jesus Sira advised Buhrman to contract the services of a shipping company with experience in importing and exporting in order to legalize the shipment of the impregnated “nutritional supplements” in Venezuela. They also took advantage of the opportunity to smuggle other items which they hid in the shipping containers, including two high-speed motorbikes, along with televisions and other electrical devices.
The two fugitives planned to make friends of a higher social status in Venezuela, and live the lives of “jet-setters”, far from where they would have to worry about prosecution for their crimes in the United States.
Betrayed by greedy accomplice
Once in Venezuela, Buhrman wanted to launder the money by investing in business and real estate, but as the famous adage goes, “if you sleep with dogs, don’t be surprised if you wake up with fleas.” The fugitives rented a residence at the luxury condominium and apartment building called El Rosal Atrium in Caracas, Venezula. Here in Venezuela, Michael Buhrman began using a new alias, Michael Caine.
The end of Buhrman and Brittain’s dreams of escape were virtually assured once the money arrived in Venezuela along with the supplements, for Jesus Sera was back in his native country and overcome by greed – he had it in sinister plot formed to rip the two fugitives off and keep the rest as profit all for himself.
Jonnathan Morales was under investigation by SEBIN, the Venezuelan intelligence agencies, for criminal activities including drug trafficking, arms trafficking, fraud and money laundering. SEBIN is an elite taskforce that only works special cases of organized crime, major fraud, etc,.
Morales planned to denounce Brittain and Buhrman to the police. He stashed drugs and weapons in an apartment of Buhrman’s a few months before the fugitive’s arrest. Morales was not aware of the fact that SEBIN was already investigating both fugitives from the United States for illegal arms trade and trafficking of illegal substances including steroids.
After arriving in Venezuela, Buhrman and Brittain rented a luxury property, frequented a local gym, and were associated with a Venezuelan gang known for forging IDs, possessing stolen automobiles and motorcycles, hijacking, fraud, money laundering, extortion, trade of illegal substances (mostly steroids), weapons, among other crimes.
Once Buhrman began catching on to Morales’s betrayal, he began planning his murder.
While attempting to capture Buhrman, several officers were wounded by the fugitive. One left with a fractured arm and another with a fractured foot. Once in the custody of SEBIN, Buhrman confessed that he and Brittain were planning a big hit in the United States, a bank robbery, kidnapping, or jewelry theft.
Both Buhrman and Brittain despised Venezuelans, looking down on almost all of them. They were recorded by police loudly boasting that “almost all Venezuelan men were fools” and that “all Venezuelan women all were whores”, calling them ‘un-gringo’.
Venezuelan investigators found sex toys and pornography when they searched the living quarters of both fugitives.
Buhrman was the most suspicious of the two, constantly on the guard for anyone that could betray them. Their main accomplices were Reinaldo Palma, Yelitza de Khan, and Jonnathan Moreno, who are all behind bars in Venezuela.
Landon Brittain was less careful. He told a work out partner at the gym they frequented about the true story of both men and confessed they were fugitives.
Of the two fugitives, Buhrman was the leader and managed the finances and accounts. Brittain was always his accomplice, until problems began to form out of jealousy and Brittain’s constant bumbling, carelessness, and recklessness.
Landon Brittain was captured on May 23rd in the gym they frequented in Caracas. He was handed over to United States Marshalls in Maiquetia International Airport 8 weeks later, after coordination between Venezuela and the United States.
On July 17th, 2013, Landon Brittain was booked into the DuPage County Jail on three charges counts, Aggravated Vehicular Hijacking, Vehicular Hijacking, and Obstruction of Justice – Evidence and False Information, with a bond of $1 million, similar charges to those which landed Buhrman a 40 year sentence.
DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin told the press that a grand jury had recently indicted Brittain, but the indictment was impounded as officials ascertained his location. Berlin admitted that Brittain aided in the carjacking, though he would not discuss details of his role. The State’s Attorney said that the defendant had “implicated himself” and as the investigation continued other evidence pointed to his involvement.
After his arrest in Venezuela, one of Landon Brittain’s acquaintances, Raul Llosa, contacted one of Brittain’s family members in the United States, attempting to get information on the status of the fugitive after his deportation. Raul was one of Landon’s homosexual friends in Caracas, who was also arrested this past week in relation to the case.
Today, Landon’s biggest concern is money. By the time that Brittain was deported back into the United States, he was bankrupt and had no money. He has no home here in the United States, does not have access to any of his assets from Venezuela from the jail cell in Illinois, and none of the money which he took to Caracas was ever brought back.
From time to time his family would put $100 on his commissary account at the county jail where he is being held. His family also helped him hire a new lawyer, but it takes a long time for the justice system to play out – and Brittain’s family is not wealthy.
The family of Landon Brittain is also largely in the dark about his capture in the United States and the severity of the charges against him here in the United States.
On October 22nd, Brittain pled not guilty to charges in the United States, and is due back in court on November 6th.
Buhrman’s arrest in Venezuela
Buhrman’s last lover in Venezuela was the 19-year-old daughter of a prominent businessman. She had run away from college and her parent’s home to live with Buhrman. Buhrman was worried that his lover’s father wanted revenge on him, so the fugitive criminal was planning an offensive move involving kidnapping the businessman and holding him ransom.
SEBIN arrested five other Venezuelans in relation to Buhrman and Brittain, who all face charges of forging identities, criminal cooperation, trafficking of illegal substances, money laundering, and terrorism. The terrorism charge was added because Buhrman was interested in acquiring C-4 explosives and a Kalashnikov AK-47 for criminal purposes.
Michael Buhrman was on a 5:00 pm flight today in the custody of U.S. Marshalls en route to the United States from Venezuela. Landon Brittain is in jail in Illinois awaiting trial.
Michael Buhrman, and many of the details of the case, will be hung up in Venezuela for some time. Currently, SEBIN intelligence agents are investigating an entire network of organized crime in Venezuela that Buhrman and Brittain were related to. More arrests will be made in relation to the case in the near future.
Brittain and Buhrman are under investigation for additional burglaries, robberies, and felonies in the United States and Venezuela. More charges are likely to be filed against the defendants.