Brandon Olebar, who received $500,000 in compensation in late 2014 after spending 10 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, is back in trouble with the law after allegedly selling guns and drugs.
A Seattle man who was paid $500,000 by the state after he was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for robbery is back in custody, charged with burglary, dealing methamphetamine and selling stolen guns.
Brandon Olebar, 32, was the first person to receive wrongful-conviction compensation from the state after Innocence Project Northwest lawyers convinced King County prosecutors they had convicted the wrong man. Olebar was released from prison in 2013 after serving 10 years behind bars.
After he was awarded the money a year later, Olebar said he hoped he could use it to get an apartment for his wife and new child, buy a car, pay bills and go back to school.
However, according to three criminal complaints — two in King County Superior Court and another in U.S. District Court — within a year Olebar was selling ounce-quantities of methamphetamine, driving a getaway car during a burglary and peddling stolen guns out of a house in Kent.
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In federal court, he’s charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm after he allegedly sold methamphetamine and a 9-mm SIG Sauer handgun to a paid, confidential law-enforcement informant for $1,000 on Dec. 16 after a meeting at his mother’s home in Covington.
A search of the home two days later, conducted by Kent police and agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), turned up other firearms, including handguns, shotguns and assault-style rifles, according to a search-warrant return filed in federal court.
The warrant alleges Olebar sold an SKS rifle — a Chinese-made weapon similar to an AK-47 — to the informant during a previous transaction. The ATF determined that gun had been reported stolen in Snohomish County, according to court documents.
According to the state charges, Olebar was arrested July 31 and charged with burglary and drug violations after he and three others were stopped in a vehicle suspected in a burglary at the office of Kent’s KOA campground. The campground office’s safe was found in the cargo area of a Land Rover with Olebar at the wheel.
A backpack containing Olebar’s wallet also contained a handgun, cash, drugs and a pair of brass knuckles, according to the complaint. They also found a bank-deposit slip showing a recent deposit of more than $404,000. A police report on the incident did not identify the account holder.
Officers also found several ounces of methamphetamine and a small quantity of heroin, according to the charges.
In the second state complaint, two King County sheriff’s deputies noticed a 2012 black two-door Cadillac CTS-V in a Taco Time parking lot in White Center on Aug. 17. According to the charges, they noticed a small pile of trash just below the driver’s window and walked up to the car.
According to the complaint, Olebar was sitting behind the wheel with a glass pipe in his lap. When one of the deputies asked if it was a meth pipe, Olebar reportedly looked down at the pipe and said, “Oh, crap.”
Deputies found more than $3,400 in cash, most in bundles of about $400, and bundles of suspected methamphetamine and heroin,the complaint alleges.
Olebar is being held in federal custody. Convictions in 2001 for drugs and felony evading police have allowed the U.S. Attorney’s Office to charge him with being a felon with a gun, a crime which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
In 2003, Olebar was sentenced to 16½ years in prison after he was convicted by a King County jury of burglary and assault for allegedly being one of several men who broke into the home of his sister’s boyfriend and beat and pistol-whipped the man unconscious.
The conviction was based solely on eyewitness testimony, according to Innocence Protect Northwest attorneys, who learned of the case in 2012.
Two University of Washington law-school students, working with Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW) attorneys, developed evidence indicating Olebar was not there and had an alibi, and presented it to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutor Dan Satterberg had his office review the evidence, and they became convinced Olebar was not involved. The charges were dismissed and Olebar ordered released from prison in 2013.
The following year, Olebar became the first person to be compensated under a new law that allows people who were wrongfully convicted to file a claim for damages against the state. Under the law, a wrongly convicted person can receive $50,000 for each year of imprisonment, including time spent awaiting trial.
IPNW director Anna Tolin at the UW law school said the project was “deeply saddened that exoneree Brandon Olebar is facing new criminal charges,” pointing out they are not related to the incident for which he was exonerated.
“The wrongly convicted face unique struggles to rebuild their lives and relationships in a world more complex and challenging than it was when they were wrongly imprisoned,” Tolin said. “The lack of any immediate established safety net for exonerees to secure housing, counseling, treatment, education or employment support is a harsh reality and an area in need of attention and reform.”
Satterberg said the decision to seek to have Olebar released from prison was based on an independent investigation that concluded he was innocent of the robbery charge.
“It is unfortunate that he has not taken advantage of his freedom and the compensation from the state and that he finds himself back in trouble with the law,” Satterberg said in a statement.