Father Accused of Taking Son in ’81

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

By STEPHANIE RICE, Columbian staff writer

A father, who allegedly fled the state with his infant son 23 years ago,
will go on trial in January in Clark County Superior Court.

Brent Ames Austin, 63, left Clark County in 1981 with his 6-week-old son,
Aric Austin, amid a custody battle.

He has been in the Clark County Jail for four months awaiting a Jan. 10
trial for custodial interference.

The case was pieced together last year by a federal agent who was
investigating Brent Austin for another crime.

If convicted, he faces up to one year in jail.

In California, Austin built a new life for himself and his son while his
estranged wife began a search for her child that would last for more than
two decades.

In 1985, Austin successfully applied for a delayed certificate of birth
for his son in the name of Michael David Johnson Jr.

Austin started calling himself Michael David Johnson Sr. and later
received a delayed certificate of birth for himself in that name.

According to court papers filed by Austin, he took his son because his
estranged wife was involved in an “extremist evil religious cult.”

Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Tony Golik said Tuesday he has no
information that Pennygale Gusman, who has remarried and lives in
Puyallup, was ever in a cult. Golik said Gusman has reunited with her
son, who uses the Johnson name and is in the Army, stationed at Fort
Lewis near Tacoma.

Neither Gusman nor Johnson could be reached Tuesday.

Gusman and Austin were in the middle of a custody dispute in December
1981. Gusman was awarded temporary custody of Aric, and Brent Austin was
granted the right to visit his son for four hours on two days a week.

On Dec. 20, 1981, Austin took his child and never returned.

The defendant’s secret was discovered by Special Agent Colleen Maher of
the U.S. Department of Education. According to documents filed in U.S.
District Court in Los Angeles, Maher began investigating Austin for
student loan and bank fraud.

Austin had taken out $34,000 in federal financial aid loans, using his
son’s Social Security number, to attend Santa Monica Community College
and the University of Southern California.

Austin eventually admitted to Maher that he’d used his son’s Social
Security number.

In July 2003, Maher found a picture of Aric Austin on the Web site for
the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

She put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

In December 2003, a Clark County prosecutor filed a warrant for Brent
Austin’s arrest. He was returned to Clark County after serving a 10-month
federal sentence for fraud.

His Jan. 10 trial may be postponed, because Golik has another trial
scheduled the same day.

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