published Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Chicago man once thought dead arrested in Vegas

By MICHELLE RINDELS

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — A former Chicago commodities broker who disappeared amid gambling and marital problems 32 years ago and was later declared legally dead has been found living under a false name and working as a bookie in Las Vegas, authorities said Friday.

Arthur Gerald Jones, a husband and father of three, was reported missing May 11, 1979, and declared dead by an Illinois court in 1986.

FBI agents had investigated his disappearance as suspicious and focused on possible mob connections, but they never solved the missing persons case, according to an affidavit filed earlier this week.

Jones, 72, was arrested Tuesday on four felony counts related to identity theft and fraud after officials say he renewed his Nevada driver’s license in 2008 under his assumed name, Joseph Richard Sandelli.

Authorities say before Jones disappeared, he paid a friend in Chicago $800 for fake documents and a Social Security number belonging to another man.

Jones’ lawyer, Stephen Stein, said the Nevada attorney general’s office is offering his client a plea deal that would allow him to plead guilty on one of the charges and face probation. Jones posted bail Thursday and has not yet discussed the plea deal with Stein.

He is set for an Aug. 23 court hearing.

A criminal complaint filed Monday in Las Vegas Justice Court paints the picture of a powerful Chicago financier tormented by snowballing gambling debts.

Jones told investigators he held a seat with the Chicago Board of Trade and lived with his wife, Joanne Esplin, and three young children in Highland Park, Ill.

But Jones said he was forced to sell his board seat to pay debts, according to the affidavit.

Esplin said her husband forged her name to get a second mortgage on the couple’s home and pay personal gambling debts, the document alleged. She said she suspected he was delivering money or running errands for the Chicago mob.

His marriage troubled and finances in shambles, Jones told investigators he decided to leave to get a “fresh start,” the affidavit said.

Esplin and Jones had been married 17 years when he disappeared. According to the affidavit, Esplin told investigators the last time she saw her husband — whose gambling once led him to bet $30,000 on a basketball game — was May 11, 1979, when he left to run an errand. She said he looked very nervous at the time.

Jones never spoke to his family or friends again. Presuming he had died, Social Security paid his family $47,000 in survivor benefits, the document said.

Attempts by The Associated Press to contact Esplin were unsuccessful Friday.

Earlier this month, investigators from the Social Security Administration contacted Nevada DMV officials. They were investigating Jones for using the Social Security number of a man named Clifton Goodenough, according to the affidavit.

Investigators say Jones used his Joseph Sandelli alias to get a Nevada driver’s license when he moved to Nevada in 1988, and renewed it in 2008. Authorities say he also lived in Florida and California after leaving Chicago.

Stein said his client has friends in Las Vegas who “consider him family” and who sprang to his defense after the arrest.

DMV spokesman Kevin Malone said cases like Jones’ are turning up more frequently as computer databases improve and law enforcement agencies are better able to communicate among themselves.

“Technology is catching up,” he said.

The Social Security Administration is continuing its investigation.

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