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Missing nuclear plant engineer to serve 40 years in carjacking — if he ever turns up

Updated: May 15, 2013 9:17PM

A nuclear plant engineer suspected of fleeing the country after being charged with a bizarre DuPage County carjacking will serve a 40-year prison sentence — if he ever turns up.

Judge Kathryn Creswell imposed the hefty prison term Wednesday on 32-year-old Michael Buhrman, who vanished last September while free on bond.

His girlfriend told authorities the U.S. Navy veteran claimed he had collected $100,000 in gold bars and planned to secretly travel to Chile to escape his legal problems.

In a strange new twist, a police detective testified during Wednesday’s sentencing that Buhrman a few months before the May 2012 carjacking tried to recruit a friend to join a bank robbery gang similar to one portrayed in the movie “The Town.”

Buhrman was earning more than $100,000 annually as a reactor engineer at the Dresden Generating Station near Morris when he was charged with stealing a car at gunpoint from a Woodridge parking lot.

He was arrested minutes later still driving the stolen car, carrying a .45-caliber pistol and wearing a lifelike latex face mask that made him appear to be an elderly man. Buhrman later told police he stole the car for the “thrill,” though authorities have expressed doubts about his claim.

Despite his absence, Buhrman was convicted last month of felony carjacking.

Though defense attorneys have argued Buhrman may have been kidnapped, Creswell dismissed that claim before slamming him with the prison term.

“He’s not here, he took off,” Creswell said. “There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind he fled to avoid prosecution.”

During the hearing, Woodridge police detective Jody Porras said Buhrman told a friend months before the carjacking that he wanted to start a gang to rob banks — both for the money and to strike back at what he viewed as an unfair economic system.

Buhrman, the friend told police, said he was inspired partly by the Ben Affleck film, which follows a group of working-class friends who commit carefully planned robberies of banks and armored cars.

That friend declined the purported offer from Buhrman.

Prosecutors have said another long-time Buhrman friend vanished about the same time as Buhrman disappeared.

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