Alleged fake DEA agent jailed

From Mirror staff reports

The brother of an Altoona man charged with impersonating a DEA agent and stealing cash and drugs is now behind bars.

Altoona police allege Shawn T. Espenlaub, 33, of 610 Fifth St., robbed an Altoona man of six pounds of marijuana and $4,000 along with his brother, Stephen M. Espenlaub Jr., 39, of 107 N. 13th Ave.

Stephen Espenlaub was arrested in January. He claimed in a letter to the Mirror he had nothing to do with the robbery but knew who did. According to police, so did Stephen Espenlaub’s wife, a brother-in-law and Stephen and Shawn Espenlaub’s father.

Court records show Stephen Espenlaub Jr.’s wife, Natalie Friley, 30, identified both her husband and Shawn Espenlaub in video surveillance footage from Dec. 18 during an April 24 meeting with police attended by her lawyer, Ed Zang.

The footage, obtained from an Altoona Water Authority camera, allegedly shows the men pulling into a parking space behind the robbery victim’s house in Friley’s car.

Police note a man originally charged as Stephen Espenlaub’s accomplice, Angel Vasquez, 33, of Altoona, did not participate in the robbery. Police arrested Vasquez when he allegedly arrived at Stephen Espenlaub’s house to split money extorted from the robbery victim in early January.

Vasquez remains charged with illegal possession of a firearm, a charge his lawyer, Joel Peppetti, said his client was fighting because the gun in question belonged to Stephen Espenlaub and was hidden in a car driven by Vasquez but registered to Friley.

Friley told police she tried to talk her husband out of sending the robbery victim the extortion note, one that demanded another 20 pounds of pot and $20,000 cash and thought he had decided not to go through with it.

The brothers’ father, Stephen Espenlaub Sr., allegedly identified Shawn, who wasn’t wearing a mask, when shown the same footage and told police he was disappointed his son was involved in such a crime, records indicate.

Police said their brother-in-law also met with police last week and also identified Shawn Espenlaub in the video surveillance footage.

Shawn Espenlaub joined his brother in Blair County Prison late Monday in lieu of $50,000 cash bail set by Magisterial District Judge Todd Kelly. Bail for Stephen Espenlaub Jr. remains at $200,000 cash, with both men facing robbery and related charges.

Police also added two counts of illegal possession of a gun to Stephen Espenlaub’s list of charges Monday.

A preliminary hearing for the men is scheduled for May 8 at Central Court.