SAN DIEGO – A Vista man was federally charged with covering up the murder of his girlfriend, who disappeared on a trip to Panama with him in 2011.
A federal indictment, unsealed Thursday, alleged Brian Karl Brimager, 37, killed Yvonne Baldelli in November 2011, then engaged in an elaborate scheme to cover it up. Brimager was arrested by FBI agents at his Vista home without incident.
Brimager is facing 10 counts of obstruction of justice and one count of making a false statement to a federal officer. Though the indictment alleged he killed Baldelli, it does not charge him with her murder.
The case remains under investigation and U.S. authorities are working with officials in Panama.
According to the indictment, Brimager and Baldelli, who as 42 at the time, moved from Los Angeles to Bocas del Toro, Panama together in September 2011. They rented a room in a five-unit hostel on Isla Carenero, a small island reachable only by boat.
“She was in love with him, desperately, and she intended to move to Panama with him and not come back – just have their life together there,” Baldelli’s niece Lauren Beyer told Fox 5 Thursday. “He came back and she didn’t.”
The indictment said while in Panama, Baldelli suffered physical abuse at the hands of Brimager. She was last seen on the evening of November 26, 2011 leaving Carlos’ Steakhouse, a restaurant in Bocas del Toro, with Brimager.
Authorities allege Brimager killed Baldelli and then covered up the murder.
“The indictment alleges that she was killed on the late evening hours of the 26th or the early morning hours of the 27,” said Hamilton Arendsen, Assistant U.S. Attorney. “On the 27th, he did two computer searches on Ms. Baldelli’s computer: one for washing a mattress and, a short time later, one for washing mattress blood stain and that he then disposed of that mattress and when he was asked by the hostel manager what happened to the mattress, he indicated that he had thrown it in the ocean because his dog had urinated on the mattress.”
After her disappearance, authorities said Brimager created a cover story to explain her whereabouts. The indictment said Brimager sent emails to Baldelli’s family and friends from her account pretending to be her. Those emails said she was in Costa Rica with another man. It also alleged he made withdrawals from her bank account, so it would appear she was alive.
The indictment also alleged that Brimager threw out Baldelli’s personal belongings including clothing, jewelry and cosmetics. It said he packed the items into approximately 10 garbage bags and left them on dock outside the hostel for disposal.
When it became clear Baldelli was missing, her family began a massive search that sparked national attention. Her sister, Michelle Faust, said Brimager never attempted to help with the search.
“Usually you know you break up with somebody, it doesn’t work out, that happens,” said Faust. “But you would never just fall away and not try to help the family when someone is missing.”
Now family members say they realize why.
“There were a lot of confusing things happening that for us as a family took us a little while to put together, because no one wants to believe that,” said Beyer. “But as the indictment showed we were fooled.”
The indictment also charged Brimager with making false statements to the FBI during an interview on March 21, 2012. It said he told the FBI Baldelli left Panama for Costa Rica on November 27, 2011. It also said he claimed Baldelli took her laptop with her when she left Panama, but the laptop was found in his possession on March 21, 2012.
During Thursday’s arraignment in federal court in San Diego, Brimager pleaded not guilty to the charges. Baldelli’s family was in the courtroom.
“I was sick to my stomach to see him and to see him averting his eyes,” said Faust.
Through all the tragedy, Baldelli’s family said her spirit will live on.
“Yvonne is a wonderful, beautiful, bubbly person and unfortunately she was a victim of domestic violence,” said Faust.
If found guilty of all charges, Brimager faces a maximum sentence of 205 years in prison.