AUGUSTA — A bizarre car chase with police in South China three months ago involving a Pennsylvania couple who had $38,200 in cash with them got stranger Wednesday amid new allegations of a nearly $500,000 home improvement fraud scheme.

Robert E. Rohwer, 33, of Peckville, Pennsylvania, appeared Wednesday at the Capital Judicial Center via video from the Kennebec County jail on a charge of being a fugitive from justice.

He is wanted on a warrant in his home state on a charge of stealing more than $495,000 through deceptive or fraudulent business practices, according to Assistant District Attorney Carie James, who represented the prosecutor’s office at the in-custody hearings on Wednesday.

His wife, Jessica Rohwer, 38, of Scott Township, Pennsylvania, who police say had the $38,200 with her after the car chase that ended in South China, said the couple planned to use it to buy land in Maine and nothing so far has linked the cash to fraud. Kennebec County sheriff’s deputies said at the time they contacted the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement division about the cash seizure because of possible “interstate bulk money laundering.”

No other explanation for the cash has been offered either in paperwork or in court, and attorneys on Wednesday declined to explain how the latest charges are linked with the chase.

Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said via email Wednesday she could offer no explanation. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I am not able to comment on the facts of this case until after it is resolved.”

Both Rohwers have been behind bars in Maine since Dec. 21, 2017.

A defense attorney indicated at a previous hearing that Rohwer operated Three Nails Contracting. A construction company by that name is based in either Clarks Summit or Olyphant, Pennsylvania. A business directory lists Jessica Rohwer as “principal” at the latter location.

In an affidavit filed at the Capital Judicial Center, Kennebec Sheriff’s Deputy Jeffrey Boudreau says the warrant was “regarding a $500,000 fraud case I was working on.”

Robert Rohwer, who also is known as Robert Oien and Ashley Smith and shows two different dates of birth, making him either 33 or 35, was arrested Tuesday at the jail on the fugitive from justice warrant.

He was in front of Justice William Stokes at the Capital Judicial Center Wednesday via video from the jail.

“He wants to waive the extradition process,” said Stephen Bourget, representing Rohwer as lawyer of the day. “They will have 30 days to come pick him up. Hopefully, by then the Maine cases will be resolved.” Stokes told Rohwer that in the meantime, he will be held without bail. Stokes signed the order of extradition Wednesday.

Rohwer was indicted Friday on charges of eluding an officer, driving to endanger and criminal speed, all dated Dec. 21, 2017, in Vassalboro, in what was termed a bizarre series of events involving a motor vehicle chase followed by a vehicle fire, and break-ins at two properties on Lakeview Drive in South China. Following the case, in which the vehicle reached up to 108 mph and nearly hit other cars head-on, police got a report of a vehicle in flames at Fire Road 28 in China. The vehicle occupants weren’t there, but three dogs were inside and later removed by an animal control officer.

Police started to pursue the vehicle occupants using a tracking dog and then got a 911 call from a Lakeview Drive home that a woman “was acting crazy and saying people were out to get her.” She also said they were “trying to move from Pennsylvania because people are after them” and had been trying to run them off the road.

Police said at the time they believed the Rohwers were both under the influence of drugs, possibly methamphetamine.

On Tuesday, Jessica Rohwer had pleaded guilty to burglary and four other offenses and was sentenced to 10 months in prison. The prosecutor at the time agreed to return the $38,200 in cash seized from her when she and Robert Rohwer were arrested on Dec. 21, 2017. Stokes ordered the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office to turn over the money to Tom Nale, the attorney representing for Robert Rohwer on the driving charges.

Jessice Rohwer’s defense attorney, Lisa Whittier, had asked that the money be returned, saying, “The state failed to show any nexus between the property seized and the criminal offenses.”

At Jessica Rohwer’s initial court appearance, she had been represented by Bourget, who told a judge that the Rohwers had saved the money and had come to Maine to purchase land.

Previously, another assistant district attorney, Kristin Murray-James, listed a series of prior criminal convictions for Robert Rohwer, including convictions in 2010 for criminal possession of stolen property, unauthorized use of a vehicle, and a 2008 conviction for unlawful possession of methamphetamine as well as theft, criminal trespass and criminal mischief. She also said there were non-extraditable warrants for Rohwer’s arrest from Washington state and from Oregon.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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