Of all places, it happened late last month at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando, according to an Orange County Sheriff’s Office arrest report.
Quashon Burton, 31, had been facing federal charges — two counts of stealing government funds and one count of identity theft — since Nov. 29, 2021. But when officials tried to execute an arrest warrant in December, Burton was nowhere to be seen. His mother told agents that Burton wouldn’t be self-surrendering, Ashley C. Nicolas, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, wrote in a letter to Judge Lewis A. Kaplan.
Prosecutors say the 31-year-old New York City resident was on the lam for nearly a year — until he was spotted by Andre in Disney’s largest theme park in the United States, home to about 2,000 animals, an Everest expedition simulation and an area inspired by the “Avatar” film.
While on a leisure trip at Animal Kingdom on Oct. 20, Andre spotted Burton — whose neck has a distinctive tattoo of a cursive “H” — and notified Disney World security, arrest records show. Orange County Sheriff’s Office officials were then called to the scene. After confirming Burton’s federal warrant and obtaining a photo of him from Andre, deputies found Burton exiting the park at a bus stop with two family members.
According to the arrest report, Burton “questioned why he needed to provide his identification” and initially gave officials a false name. He was asked “multiple times” to place his hands behind his back but refused, the report states. Ultimately, an official took Burton “to the ground to safely secure him,” the report adds, leading to another charge: resisting an officer without violence.
Burton was then placed in local custody before being transferred to a federal prison. In her Oct. 26 letter to the judge, Nicolas, the prosecutor, said “law enforcement later learned that Burton had been using a false identity while at Disney World.”
“He has clearly demonstrated an ability to mask his true identity to evade law enforcement,” Nicolas wrote. “So too has he demonstrated a willingness to lie about this identity to avoid arrest.”
Prosecutors allege that Burton managed to secure Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans — which were intended to support small businesses during the pandemic but have been riddled with cases of fraud and deception — by using a “complex web” of names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of at least four victims throughout the summer of 2020.
Harvey Fishbein, Burton’s attorney, declined to comment on the allegations.
According to court records, on July 17, 2020, Burton filed PPP loan applications for two Texas-based businesses: a day care facility and a flooring company. But investigators alleged that such businesses didn’t exist and accused Burton of using other people’s personal information and bank cards.
On July 20, 2020, a total of $149,800 in loans was deposited by the government to two bank accounts Burton had access to, court records state. A week later, officials say, he transferred some $10,000 to another account he had created and tried to buy over $6,000 worth of money orders at a New York City postal facility, according to a complaint.
It would take investigators over a year to compile enough evidence to seek an indictment. Yet, by the time Burton’s arrest warrant was served, authorities weren’t able to find him — that is, until the two men crossed paths at the “kingdom of animals … real, ancient, and imagined,” as Animal Kingdom’s dedication plate from 1998 reads.
After Burton’s arrest at the park, Judge David A. Baker of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida approved his release, under the condition that he was monitored by GPS. But prosecutors in the Southern District of New York — where his federal case is being litigated — said he was “an extreme flight risk” and urged for him to remain in custody. Kaplan, the judge presiding over the case in New York, ultimately agreed, citing Burton’s prior failures to make court-ordered appearances and attempts to evade law enforcement, court records show.
On Friday, Baker vacated the conditions of Burton’s release and ordered the U.S. Marshals Service to transport Burton some 1,079 miles north to New York — where he’s facing “a serious sentence that includes a two-year mandatory minimum,” prosecutors said.
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