Man declared dead in 1986 is found alive in Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS – Court records paint a picture of Arthur Gerald Jones as a powerful Chicago financier who was tormented by snowballing gambling debts and a troubled marriage when he left home to run an errand in spring 1979 and never returned.
FBI agents investigated his disappearance, focusing on possible mafia connections, but never solved the case. An Illinois court declared the husband and father of three dead in 1986.
Now, more than three decades later, authorities say Jones has been living under an alias, spending the past 10 years working as a bookie at a Las Vegas casino under the name Joseph Richard Sandelli.
Jones, 72, was arrested Tuesday on four felony counts related to identity theft and fraud after a report that he fraudulently used a Social Security number led to an investigation.
A criminal complaint filed Monday in Las Vegas Justice Court says Jones told investigators this week that he left Highland Park, Ill., all those years ago to get a “fresh start” and hasn’t talked to his family or friends there since.
Before disappearing, Jones paid a friend in Chicago $800 for fake documents and a Social Security number belonging to another man, authorities said.
The affidavit says Jones was a former Chicago commodities broker who lived in Highland Park with his wife, Joanne Esplin, and three young children.
He told investigators he held a seat with the Chicago Board of Trade but was forced to sell it to pay debts.
Attempts by The Associated Press to contact Esplin were unsuccessful Friday.
She and Jones had been married 17 years when he disappeared. She told investigators her husband forged her name to get a second mortgage on their home and pay personal gambling debts, the affidavit said. She also said she suspected he was delivering money or running errands for the Chicago mob.
Esplin said 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, the affidavit said.
Presuming Jones had died, Social Security paid his family $47,000 in survivor benefits.
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, the affidavit said.
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.
Jones’ lawyer, Stephen Stein, says the Nevada attorney general is offering his client a plea deal that would allow him to plead guilty to just one of the charges and face probation. Jones posted bail $20,000 bail Thursday and has not discussed the plea deal with Stein.
Stein said his client has friends in Las Vegas who “consider him family” and who sprang to his defense after the arrest.
He is set for an Aug. 23 court hearing.
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.