PORT ALLEN, La. — Authorities are still looking for a Louisiana businessman who may have orchestrated the kidnapping of his estranged wife.
Lawrence Michael Handley appears to be at the center of a tangled tale that led to two Jackson, Mississippi, men fleeing from sheriff’s deputies the wrong way down the shoulder of Interstate 10 against snarled traffic, then running into a swamp Sunday, only to be found drowned in the Intracoastal Waterway on Monday.
The kidnapped woman, taken from her Lafayette home Sunday afternoon, was found alive and handcuffed in the van the men abandoned.
Handley is proving more elusive, and Lafayette police tell local media he’s rich enough to flee or hide.
Lafayette police issued a warrant for Handley on Monday, charging him with conspiracy to commit second-degree kidnapping, conspiracy to attempted second-degree kidnapping and violation of a protective order. Police said they believe the kidnapping relates to an ongoing domestic dispute.
“We’re still trying to figure everything out,” Cpl. Bridgette Dugas, a Lafayette police spokeswoman, told The Advocate Wednesday. “It’s a definite possibility (Handley) orchestrated all of this but we won’t be able to confirm anything yet. We need more evidence.”
Police have said a pair of armed men barged into the home, handcuffed an adult and a juvenile and placed a black bag over the head of the woman, forcing her into a white van. Police believe those men were the two who later drowned in West Baton Rouge Parish — Sylvester Bracey and Arsenio Haynes, both 27.
KATC-TV reports the men had been arrested together in Hinds County, Mississippi, and were convicted of burglary, auto theft and aggravated assault. Those charges stemmed from a 2006 incident where the then-teens broke into a house, tied up a woman and threatened to kill her if she didn’t hand over her car keys. After the defendants retrieved her keys, they left and the victim was able to free herself and call police.
They were also accused in connection with two similar home invasions that summer, WLBT-TV reported at the time. The men were each sentenced to 10 years in prison.
It’s unclear how they might be connected to Handley, the 49-year-old founder of a chain of addiction treatment centers.
Court records in Lafayette show that Handley has been involved in acrimonious divorce proceedings that included allegations of violent threats. Handley and his wife each obtained court orders restricting both parties from contact with the other.
Once a successful computer consultant, Handley struggled with alcoholism, at one point pleading guilty in 2005 to using a fake $22,000 cashier’s check to charter a private jet from Lafayette to Boston.
He co-founded Townsend with a single Lafayette clinic in 2007, records show. It grew over the next several years to include clinics throughout south Louisiana. Tennessee-based American Addiction Centers Inc. purchased the business in a $21 million deal at the end of 2015.