EL native picked up in Floridia for deserting Air Force 40 years ago

SANFORD, Fla. — An East Liverpool native who officials say failed to report for military service 40 years ago is now in custody on a desertion charge.

Jeffrey Michels, born Oct. 18, 1952 in East Liverpool, was taken into custody Oct. 12 at his home in Sanford by an investigator with the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.

He was arrested on a warrant for military desertion from the U.S. Air Force Headquarters Office of Special Investigations.

According to a spokesman from the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, Michels was held in the county jail for four hours the day of his arrest, without bond, due to the military being en route to take custody of him.

Also according to the sheriff’s report, Michels had changed his identity to Jeffrey W. Lantz and his birthdate to Oct. 25, 1951, stating he was born in Florida.

Although other details were not available from the sheriff’s department Wednesday, and a message left with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations was not returned, other news sources reported Michels was enlisted as an airman first class on active duty when he failed to report to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota on July 6, 1977.

According to the sheriff’s report, he is currently president of Atlantic Development Corp., a Sanford construction company, and other media reports indicated he used the name Lantz in acquiring the license for the business in 1998 from the state of Florida, as well as when purchasing his home in the Terra Bella complex where he was living with his wife and family at the time of his apprehension.

Although he had reportedly not been heard from since 1977, Michels’ school age photograph was posted in July on social media by Veteran Doe, an online investigative group for missing veterans.

While some media reported the statute of limitations has expired on the desertion charge, others indicated it has not and that Michels will be tried in a court of law on the charge. That could not be confirmed Wednesday with the Air Force.

In a similar case in Ocala, Florida in April, a 75-year-old Air Force agent for the Office of Special Investigations, who walked away from his base in 1972, received a 15-year prison sentence which was reduced to 30 days confinement, with credit given for time served. He had lived under a different name for 45 years.

A message for comment left Wednesday night at his home was not returned.