July 07, 2003 12:00 PM

Andrew Luster wanted to go to the men’s room. A couple of weeks ago, when the convicted rapist was living on the lam in Mexico, not a problem. But on June 19, his first day back in the U.S. after being captured by bounty hunters a day earlier, using the restroom at Los Angeles’s LAX airport meant mobilizing four armed FBI agents and two customs agents, who shadowed the handcuffed Luster every step of the way. “He had sort of a blank expression,” says one airport employee. “He looked like he was in a daze.”

He’ll have 124 years to get his bearings. The great-grandson of Hollywood cosmetics pioneer Max Factor, Luster, 39, disappeared on Jan. 3, smack in the middle of his trial on charges of drugging three women and raping them while they were unconscious (he also videotaped the assaults). In his absence a Ventura County, Calif., jury found the surf-loving, trust-fund-draining playboy guilty and sentenced him to 124 years in jail. Luster’s final six months of freedom ended bizarrely when self-professed ace bounty hunter Duane Lee “Dog” Chapman, trailed by his own video crew, wrestled Luster into a van near a taco stand in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (see box).

Luster spent his time as a fugitive much as he spent most of his adult life—surfing waves and chasing women. In the last month he lived in Puerto Vallarta under the alias David Carrera and spent his last three nights at the Motel Los Angeles near the beach. After his capture, reporters searching the motel found a notebook filled with Luster’s scribblings, such as grocery lists and Spanish translations of cheesy pickup lines (see box).

Why did he flee in the midst of his trial, forfeiting $1 million in bail, some of which came from his mother? “He didn’t leave because he was guilty; he left because he couldn’t defend himself,” says his mother, Liz Luster, 71. “The trial was a joke, a travesty. Drew never hurt a soul in his life, including his so-called victims.” Luster’s lawyer Roger Diamond says that “about 25 legal errors were committed in court” and that his client probably “felt he couldn’t get justice.”

Whatever the motive, Luster, under house arrest, fled his Ventura County cottage in his Toyota SUV nearly a month into the trial. Despite an extensive dragnet, he eluded notice until a couple from the U.S. saw a TV report about him and remembered socializing with him while on vacation north of Puerto Vallarta. The couple passed the tip to Duane Lee Chapman, who was featured on the report, and then informed the FBI. “We were acting on the same information [as Chapman],” says FBI spokeswoman Laura Bosley, “and we were right behind him.”

Still, it was the colorful Chapman who found Luster first. Witnesses saw him and four associates, including his son, surround Luster near a shabby taco stand on Calle Honduras at 5 a.m. on June 18, just after Luster ordered two 38-cent beef tacos. Chapman subdued Luster with a chemical spray, handcuffed him and threw him in a waiting van. Puerto Vallarta police caught up with the van and arrested Luster. They also locked up Chapman and his gang on charges of privation of liberty (they have been released from jail and are confined to a Puerto Vallarta hotel). “Bounty hunting,” explains Bosley, “is illegal in Mexico.”

Luster plans to appeal the verdict that he was not around to hear. His mother insists the unmarried Luster “is a good father” to his young son and daughter, both in the custody of their mother in Malibu. During his house arrest “he built a skateboard ramp for them in his garage,” says Liz Luster, adding that legal fees and $20,000 a year in child-support payments have all but depleted Luster’s trust fund, which police say once held millions.

Others feel Luster is finally getting what he deserves. “You gotta be dumb to rape someone and videotape it, but you’ve got to be even dumber to become a fugitive and hang out in Puerto Vallarta, the most popular west-coast destination for Americans in Mexico,” says one of Luster’s former surfing buddies. “None of what he did makes sense. What an idiot.”

Alex Tresniowski

Adrienne Bard in Mexico City and Alexis Chiu and Johnny Dodd in Los Angeles

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