Entrepreneur A Fugitive From Justice

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Mikiyo Yonemura, the self-described entrepreneur who has promised that a controversial restaurant deal he is overseeing will bring $21 million to Payson, is also bringing to town guns and a string of legal woes that span three states including an outstanding bench warrant for his arrest, an arrest for making "terrorist threats," and a history of bankruptcy.

A felony bench warrant, which was discovered during a Roundup investigation, was issued May 20, 1999, when Yonemura repeatedly failed to appear at a San Bernardino, Calif. courthouse following his arrest June 19, 1997, for possession of methamphetamine.

On the date of his arrest, Yonemura also was charged with possession of a dangerous drug, use of a dangerous drug and being under the influence of controlled substances.

When contacted in the Valley, Yonemura refused to discuss his arrest history with the Roundup during a phone interview.

According to Payson Police Lt. Don Engler, the original charges against Yonemura "were felony in nature, but when he entered into a plea agreement, it was downgraded to a misdemeanor.

"But since (Yonemura) didn't live up to his end of the plea agreement, there will be a hearing (Tuesday in San Bernardino County) to look into upping it back up to a felony."

The Payson Police Department, acting on information supplied by the Roundup, has asked the California court to approve out-of-state extradition, Engler said. If extradition is approved, Yonemura could be arrested in Arizona.

"We're talking directly with the San Bernardino County attorney who's handling the case ... and hopefully we'll have the information by mid-day (Tuesday)," Engler said.

Yonemura's run-ins with law enforcement officers do not end with his being a fugitive from justice.

In fact, Thursday evening, Yonemura and five of his self-described associates burly men in dark suits and sunglasses were meeting with Mario's owner Dave Conti when a citizen phoned the Payson Police Department to report that several men, who looked like they were armed, had entered the restaurant and were acting "suspiciously."

Three of Yonemura's associates were carrying concealed handguns, investigating officer Les Barr said.

All three, however, also possessed concealed weapons permits, and no arrests were made.

Although Yonemura's associates can legally carry concealed handguns, Yonemura cannot.

Last year, he was arrested in California on a misdemeanor charge of making a terrorist threat. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 days in jail, fined, placed on probation for three years, prohibited from contacting the victim and, according to the Riverside County District Attorney's office, prohibited from owning or carrying a gun for 10 years.

According to the district attorney's office in Riverside, Yonemura still owes $210 in court fines associated with the terrorist threat conviction.

In 1992, he filed a Chapter 13 personal bankruptcy reorganization while operating the Manhattan Deli in West Memphis, Ark. And in 1993, Yonemura was sued by a company in Portland, Ore. and was ordered to pay a judgment of $1,325.

In June 1996, he was arrested in Globe and charged with theft for failing to return 13 cookbooks, two books on how to start a small business and one book titled "Medieval Warfare," which he'd checked out of the Globe Public Library.

Yonemura pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor theft charge and was ordered to pay the library $358 for late fees and the cost of the books and a $160 court fine, plus $12 to arrange a payment schedule.

As of last week those fines had not been paid. Yonemura told the Roundup earlier this month that he hadn't paid those fines because all of his money is tied up in his corporation, Yonemura, Inc.

"But," he said two weeks ago, "I can assure you that it will be paid with the next week."

Tuesday morning, the court would not confirm whether those fines had been paid.

Also in June of 1996, Yonemura was arrested for failing to return a videotape recorder and four video cassettes that he had rented from Movies To Go, a video store in Globe. The store placed the value of the recorder and the video tapes "Death Match," American Ninja 5," "Navy Seals" and the "Finest Hour" at $285.

Yonemura also was ordered to compensate the video store for the value of the video cassette recorder and the tapes.

On the booking record, Yonemura described himself as an "unemployed entrepreneur."

In an interview conducted before his drug and "terrorist threats" arrests were uncovered by the Roundup, Yonemura said the library books, the videotape recorder and the videos were stolen from his apartment.

"When I was in Chicago, the landlord went into my apartment illegally and removed all of my property and put it in storage," he said.

He said he didn't take his landlord to court or fight the theft charge because, "Her business closed down. What do you want me to do? In Globe, Ariz. there is no way to fight a court case. That's just the fact."

Yonemura has said he plans to hire more than 300 employees to work in Mario's Restaurant, which he is now trying to buy in a deal where "something is going to happen today or tomorrow," owner Dave Conti said Monday.

Of those 300 employees, Yonemura has said 130 and their 200 children will be relocated from Phoenix to Payson.

He has also stated plans to build affordable housing within six months for his new employees and the community.

Yonemura has additionally promised to give the Payson School District $700,000 for modular classrooms and teacher salaries, in addition to four payments of $1.5 million over the next four years to compensate the district for the influx of students.

Yonemura has said he expects to invest a total of $21 million in the Rim country, which would come from an investment group he has yet to identify.

While speaking to Payson School District board members last week, Yonemura summed up his own history, albeit without going into details.

"I'm not perfect," he said. "I've made mistakes."

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