'America's Most Wanted' helps nab Illinois Ponzi fugitives
Nelson and Janet Hallahan were arrested in Arizona after 12 years as fugitives. Known as the 'Mini Madoffs,' they were convicted in Illinois of stealing $1.2 million.
Tonopah, Arizona — Acting on a tip, US marshals in Arizona put an end to an Illinois couple's life on the lam, a dozen years after they fled punishment for running a Ponzi scheme that targeted friends, the elderly, and even family members, authorities said.
As fugitives, Nelson Grant Hallahan, 65, and wife Janet Hallahan, 54, lived in several states in the Southwest and had used a number of aliases, the Marshals Service said Sunday.
The two were arrested by deputy marshals Saturday afternoon in Tonopah, a desert community 50 miles west of Phoenix. Officials believe they hid in Arizona for the past couple years.
"The 12-year run from justice of the Hallahans, also known as the 'Mini Madoffs,' has come to an end," US Marshal for Arizona David Gonzales said in a statement. "Their investment scams involving family, friends, and the elderly, ruined many lives."
The agency said it received a tip about their location after they were featured on "America's Most Wanted" the previous night.
The couple pleaded guilty in Illinois federal court to bank and mail fraud conspiracy charges and money laundering. They didn't show up for their sentencing and began life on the run.
While living in Peoria, Ill., the couple promised their victims significant returns on investments, the Marshal Service said. They were actually running a Ponzi scheme, repaying earlier investors with proceeds from new ones. They also defrauded investors by selling interests in a tanning salon they later sold without telling investors, the statement said.
The Marshal Service said the couple netted millions of dollars from victims, and maintained a lavish lifestyle, buying yachts, luxury vehicles, designer clothes and jewelry.
Teresa Allred, 63, said she and her husband went to dinner with the Hallahans several times and had considered them friends.
They gave the Hallahans $15,000 to buy more tanning beds for the salon. Allred, who lives with her husband just outside Peoria in Morton, Ill., said the Hallahans promised them a 10 percent interest rate on the investment.
Allred told The Associated Press Sunday night that they never saw the money again.
"When she (Janet) was borrowing money from us to buy tanning beds, she had already sold the tanning salon," she said.
"With friends like that, who needs enemies?" she said.
According to a profile on the AMW website, Nelson Hallahan was a successful life insurance salesman. Janet Hallahan was his assistant and secretary, and the couple married in 1988.
The Hallahans owed nearly $1.2 million to investors when they disappeared just days before they were to be sentenced in January 2000.
Matt Hershey, a supervisory deputy U.S. Marshal, said the Hallahans were living apart and were arrested without incident at separate homes.
"I'm just glad that they've been found," Allred said. "We may or may not see our money, but at least I feel like there's a little bit of restitution."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.