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Originally published October 27, 2012 at 6:31 PM | Page modified October 27, 2012 at 11:46 PM

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Mastros' name was on mailbox in French village

The Mastros had been living in an apartment in a recently converted 1840 mansion in a hamlet called Marceau in the hills above the town of Doussard, France.

Special to The Seattle Times

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DOUSSARD, France — Fugitives Michael R. and Linda Mastro did not hide their identities from neighbors at their last home in France.

Their name is on the mailbox of the apartment they rented, one of 10 in a recently converted 1840 mansion in a hamlet called Marceau in the hills above the town of Doussard.

The Mastros were the first people to move into the complex — Résidence Domaine des Sources — this spring, said neighbor Dominique Maire.

The first time she spoke with Mastro, she said, was to ask him to stop his dog from relieving itself on her basement door.

Michael Mastro, 87, a former Seattle real-estate magnate, and his wife were arrested by French police at the FBI's request Wednesday after 16 months on the lam.

They have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle on 43 counts of bankruptcy fraud and money laundering stemming from the collapse of Mastro's real-estate empire and his subsequent bankruptcy.

The couple are in custody in Lyon awaiting further court proceedings. Michael Mastro's Seattle attorney has said the couple will fight extradition.

The first warrant for the Mastros' arrest was issued by a Seattle bankruptcy judge in July 2011, after they failed to comply with a court order to turn over two enormous diamond rings valued at $1.4 million.

Their French attorney has said the Mastros were not aware they were wanted. But a source close to the case said their suitcases were packed and they were on the verge of moving when they were arrested.

The source also said receipts were found in the apartment for products purchased in Geneva, Switzerland, that are sold only in Switzerland, suggesting the couple traveled there often.

Geneva is less than 40 miles from Doussard.

Police say Résidence Domaine des Sources was the last of three addresses at which the Mastros lived over the past year near Lake Annecy, in the French Alps.

Five of the 10 apartments in the converted mansion remain for sale, for prices ranging from 275,000 to 550,000 euros, or about $355,000 to $710,000.

Maire, the Mastros' neighbor, said the couple entertained few guests. But she said they did have visitors this summer in cars with Washington state license plates.

Maire said the Mastros came to a welcome party she organized for residents in August. Michael wore a suit, Linda, 63, a long dress.

"Their dress was a bit more formal than necessary for the atmosphere of the village, but they were lovely," Maire said.

"Unfortunately, they did not speak much French. I could not talk with them."

But the Mastros could converse with upstairs neighbors from New Zealand, she added.

Richard Frossard, who lives a few doors down, said he encountered Mastro several times a week when he was walking his dog. "We only exchanged superficial niceties," he said.

"We met when he came out with his little dogs and, after a few words, he departed," said Guy Belliard, another neighbor. "But I would have liked to practice my English!"

A postal employee said he remembers delivering packets of coffee regularly to the Mastros. But people at most businesses in Doussard said they had never seen or heard of the couple.

Michael Mastro developed housing, retail and office projects worth as much as $2 billion during a real-estate career that began in 1967. He also loaned money to other developers.

His business began to collapse when the market crashed in 2008, and he was pushed into bankruptcy involuntarily in July 2009.

His debts to unsecured creditors have been estimated at $250 million, and the court-appointed bankruptcy trustee has said they are unlikely to get back more than a few pennies on the dollar.

The grand-jury indictment charges the Mastros schemed illegally — before and after entering bankruptcy — to put the rings and other assets worth millions off-limits to those creditors.

Seattle Times business reporter Eric Pryne contributed

to this report.

Translation assistance provided by Marie Koltchak,

Seattle Times staff.

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