February 04, 2004 11:00 AM

Investigators say they are questioning a drug felon who was found in Sarasota, Fla., and who they believe was responsible for the disappearance of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia last weekend, reports the Associated Press.

Carlie’s whereabouts, however, are still not known. Her startling abduction while walking home from a friend’s house last Sunday was captured on a surveillance tape that has been shown nationwide and which led officials to identify the man they are questioning.

Joseph P. Smith, 37, has been in custody on a probation violation since Tuesday afternoon, says AP. Smith’s car, a Buick Century station wagon, was being searched by sheriff’s investigators for clues in the disappearance of Carlie.

Jeff Bell, the lead Sarasota County sheriff’s investigator on the case, said of Smith: “We have strong evidence that he is in fact the perpetrator.” Sheriff Bill Balkwill said investigators were led to Smith after a telephone tip — one of 400 that were received, he said.

Chuck Chambers, a private investigator hired by the girl’s family, said late Wednesday, “I have a possible lead to Carlie’s whereabouts, … Carlie’s stepfather is en route now to some type of crime scene.”

Chambers said he had no other information. Sarasota County sheriff’s deputies denied that any crime scene existed, according to AP.

According to state records, Smith has been arrested at least 13 times in Florida since 1993. On May 7, 1997, Manatee County officials arrested him on kidnapping and false imprisonment charges, but he was acquitted a year later, records show.

Other arrests range from misdemeanor battery to drug possession, records show.

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