A onetime Peoria couple convicted of fraud in a scheme than bilked investors of more than $1 million will be coming back to Illinois, 12 years after they disappeared just before a sentencing hearing.
Nelson and Janet Hallahan were arrested over the weekend in rural Arizona after being featured on "America's Most Wanted." At a hearing Monday, the Hallahans agreed to be extradited to Illinois.
In the years since they fled, many of the victims they were found guilty of swindling have died. The U.S. marshal who had them at the top of his most-wanted list for a decade retired in 2011.
One of their victims, Teresa Allred said that despite their capture, she doubts she'll ever see the $15,000 she lost to the Hallahans in a phony investment scheme.
"I certainly hope they go to jail, and I hope they don't let them out again so they can't run off," said Allred, 63, who invested part of her retirement savings in a bogus tanning salon business in 1999.
A week after Allred lent the Hallahans the money, she stopped by the couple's business, only to discover the Hallahans had sold it a month earlier. Allred and her husband went to breakfast with Nelson Hallahan in search of an explanation, "and he gave us a bunch of excuses," Allred recalled.
"Then he told us he forgot his wallet and we had to pick up the bill," she said. "I told my husband then I had a bad feeling."
The Hallahans were arrested Saturday in Tonopah, Ariz., a small, "very, very rural" community about 50 miles west of Phoenix, said Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Matt Hershey.
A tipster who had seen the Hallahan case recounted on television called authorities, ending a search that began in January 2000.
The Hallahans had pleaded guilty to defrauding dozens of people of more than $1 million. Nelson Hallahan, an insurance agent, persuaded his victims to cash in life insurance policies to invest with him, offering promissory notes that often guaranteed more than 10 percent interest.
"He wasn't picking on millionaires, he was picking on people of pretty modest means, so it hurt them all pretty bad," said Michael Walters, a Peoria attorney who represented his uncle, a retired mechanic who lost $30,000 to the Hallahans. Walters' uncle died while the couple was on the lam.
"Most of (the victims) were older, so they never had a chance to recover what they lost," he said. "The ones that are still alive will finally have the opportunity to see them doing their time."
Bruce Harmening, who spent the last decade of his 30-year career in law enforcement as head of the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force in Peoria, said the Hallahans were the only major open case in the district when he retired in 2011.
"We knew they were in that (Southwestern) part of the country," Harmening said. "They were very good fugitives. They knew how not to get caught."
Tonopah, an unincorporated community of perhaps 5,000 residents scattered over more than 100 square miles, is a good place to disappear, said Andrea Peterson, manager of Tin Top Bar & Grill, one of two restaurants in town.
"It's been a shock, that's for sure," said Peterson, who knew Janet Hallahan as "Dee."
"We used to talk all the time and have a cigarette," she said. "She was a lot of fun."
The Hallahans were at different addresses when they were arrested and may have been living separately, Hershey said. The couple had been living in the area for several years and had used multiple aliases
Life in Tonopah, a cluster of trailer parks and modest homes, was a departure for the Hallahans. In Peoria they drove luxury cars -- Janet Hallahan's Cadillac sported vanity plates that read "SPOYLT" -- and wore flashy clothes and jewelry, said Don Wilson, one of the couple's victims.
"There's some peace knowing they're not going to be able to do whatever they wanted," Wilson said. "It's been 10 or 12 years, you get to thinking they're gone."
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