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Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016 12:08 am

Parsons, scolded, walks again

Judge repeats threat of jail

 

Jeffrey Parsons, the embattled entrepreneur under criminal investigation for bamboozling folks from coast to coast, arrived at the federal courthouse last week in style.

He came to Springfield, his former home, in a late-model Ford F150 pickup truck with plates from Texas, where he now lives. In a three-piece charcoal pinstripe suit, French cuff shirt and cufflinks, he resembled more a banker than someone who has declared bankruptcy and been accused of hiding assets. He was, easily, the best-dressed person in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Richard Mills, who took notice of the defendant’s attire and ability to make court dates nearly 1,000 miles north of his home in the Lone Star State.

“(H)e’s always well dressed,” the judge observed during the hearing called after Parsons failed to turn over financial records to former employees who are owed more than $12.2 million for unpaid wages. “He always gets here. There’s a cost to getting here.”

Despite the fancy clothes and shiny truck, Parsons is broke, according to his lawyer Dan Fultz. Thinking that the Dec. 7 hearing would be postponed, Fultz said that Parsons faced a choice on the eve of his appearance before Mills: Either pay $900 for a last-minute airline ticket or drive to Springfield.

“A plane ticket was cost-prohibitive on short notice,” Fultz said in an interview. “As you know, he’s in a somewhat difficult financial position at this time.”

Mills isn’t so sure. During last week’s hearing, the judge threatened to throw Parsons in jail if he didn’t disclose financial records.

“He’s a con man, and he’s been doing this forever – that’s why he’s fleeced all these poor people out of all this money,” Mills said. “We are playing for big stakes here. I am not going to allow these people to be bilked anymore. … This is not a playground, and I am not playing around. We’re going to get down and dirty.”

The judge has said much the same during previous hearings, but for all the huffing and puffing, no houses have been blown down. Mills stepped up efforts to make Parsons pay up last summer, after Illinois Times published a story about Parsons’ Fourth of July weekend wedding that included a photo of a diamond engagement ring worn by his bride, a convicted felon who was charged with stealing $227,000 from nursing home residents in 2010 (“Congratulations!” July 5, 2016). In 2011, she was sentenced to two years and ordered to pay $50,000 in restitution.

During a hearing last summer, Parsons told Mills he had no idea that his wife had a criminal record. He also said that the diamond was an heirloom from one of his bride’s relatives and that he didn’t pay for the wedding or a cruise vacation that the newlyweds took for their honeymoon. He also said that he lives in a four-bedroom house with his wife and daughter that is more than 3,000 square feet in size – he testified that his wife pays the $2,550 monthly lease.

Last week, Fultz told Mills said that Parsons is an employee of his wife’s company, which holds estate sales and operates under at least four names. Fultz also told the judge that his client recently has been hit with an IRS garnishment that leaves him with just $398 per biweekly pay period. All told, Parsons owes the IRS more than $3 million, Fultz said, and cannot afford monthly $500 payments that Mills has ordered Parsons to make toward the $12.3 million judgment won by former employees.

Mills rejected Fultz’ assertion that Parsons no longer has the ability to make $500 monthly payments.

“I’ll talk to the IRS,” Mills said. “They’re not going to come in here and squeeze me out.”

The judge also denied a request from Fultz to withdraw from the case, rejecting the criminal defense specialist’s assertion that he doesn’t have sufficient expertise to represent Parsons in civil matters. Lawyers usually sit next to their clients in court, but an empty chair separated Fultz from Parsons last week, and the lawyer told Mills that Brown, Hay and Stephens, his law firm, doesn’t want Parsons as a client, at least in the civil case.

“There was a concern that Mr. Parsons’ reputation might somehow tarnish the firm’s reputation,” Fultz said.

In an October email to James Zouras, opposing counsel, Fultz wrote that money is an issue.

“(H)is (Parsons’) retainer ran out a couple months ago,” Fultz wrote. “My firm will not allow further work on his behalf without an additional retainer, as his reputation for nonpayment is widely known in the community.”

Four days later, Fultz told Zouras in an email that Parsons had come up with more money. It’s not clear where the money came from or how much Parsons paid for continued legal help.

“I have sent him a list of the documents you’ve requested and asked him to notify me over the weekend as to which documents are in his possession,” Fultz wrote. “I’m trying my best to expedite this.”

Fultz’ efforts to expedite apparently fell short. Mills last week gave Parsons until early January to turn financial records over to attorneys for his former employees and otherwise answer questions about his finances. If questions remain unanswered, the judge set an April date for a deposition to be held in his courtroom.

Fultz gave little hope that Parsons’ former employees, who bought precious metals and other valuables at events across the nation typically held in hotels, will ever be made whole.

“We are trying to squeeze blood from a turnip, and we’re trying to squeeze a lot of blood from a turnip,” Fultz told the judge. “It’s just not there.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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