Ledger-Enquirer on July 10, 2011 released the following:
“By JIM MUSTIAN
When the law finally caught up with him, John A. Gill Jr. managed to buy back his freedom.
Found guilty five years ago of racketeering in Pensacola, Fla., the notoriously unscrupulous Phenix City businessman posted a $1 million bond and was released as he appealed a 10-year prison sentence. Due to chronic kidney problems, Gill remained free a few months even after a higher court upheld his conviction for charging abusive interest rates as a payday lender in a case prosecutors described as the first of its kind.
But when his prison day finally came around, prosecutors were faced with an empty jail cell and a long list of questions that are still unanswered two years after Gill failed to surrender to authorities. While Gill’s whereabouts remain unclear, his brother now has publicly confirmed what had long been assumed: After exhausting his appeals, Gill fled the country to avoid serving prison time and is now considered an international fugitive.
His decision to live a life on the lam “was motivated in large part by virtue of the serious end-stage kidney disease” from which he suffers, Gill’s brother said in a recent affidavit filed in federal court in Columbus, where a battle is brewing over control of Gill’s former businesses and local real estate interests.
The sworn statement raises even more questions about whether Gill, 53, ever will be brought to justice for the many families he defrauded as a disreputable loanshark. His mobility, meanwhile, is sure to be restricted by his severe kidney ailments.
“I think he’s in bad health,” said one longtime friend who refused to speak for attribution for fear of reprisals, adding he’s heard rumors Gill may be somewhere in South America.
In an effort to turn up the heat, Interpol, the global police body, has circulated a red notice alerting its 188-member countries of Gill’s fugitive status in the United States. The organization issued the same alert a few years ago for Michael Jason Registe, the Columbus man who was charged in two execution-style slayings and captured in the Caribbean, and more recently for Julian Assange, the embattled founder of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
A red notice is designed to restrict a fugitive’s travel and facilitate his extradition upon arrest, said Douglas C. McNabb, a Houston attorney who specializes in international extradition cases.
“The purpose of a red notice is to landlock him, basically,” McNabb said. “If there’s a red notice out there and their picture is on the public database, that really puts super pressure on these guys to either continue hiding or at some point make a decision to try to get the matter resolved.”
It was not clear exactly when the alert was issued, though Interpol’s website shows it was “last modified” on June 28, the same day Gill’s brother testified during an evidentiary hearing in federal court in Columbus. Interpol did not respond last week to inquiries about the timing of the red notice.
Florida lawmen provided few details last week about the status of the search for Gill. Spokesmen for the U.S. Marshals Service and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said their agencies did not appear to be actively searching for him.
Gill remains wanted, however, by the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office for failure to appear, according to online records.
“It is still an active matter — it is not closed,” said Russ Edgar, the assistant state attorney in Pensacola who prosecuted Gill. “There are authorities that are looking for John Gill, and I can’t comment on an ongoing matter any more than that.”
Before his disappearance, Gill lived in a high-end riverfront home in Phenix City, having accumulated a small fortune as a payday lender and owner of small businesses across the country. Though perhaps never to the current extent, he became accustomed over the years to scrutiny from prosecutors who were skeptical of his business practices and accused him of targeting working poor and military families with high-interest loans.
Notable run-ins with authorities occurred in New York, where a company Gill founded was sued by former Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, and in Texas, where Gill was accused of charging up to 782 percent interest on short-term loans.
Accusations of predatory lending followed Gill to Columbus as well, where he ran his businesses out of a Holly Avenue office. One of his companies, Georgia Catalog Sales, became the subject of a class-action lawsuit in Muscogee County. In 2004, Gill spent almost three weeks in jail for failing to produce company records for a bankruptcy proceeding.
Prosecutors in Phenix City brought extortion charges against Gill many years ago, though they ultimately were dismissed. Gill did, however, plead guilty to a violation of the Alabama Small Loan Act, according to Russell County court documents.
In 2006, a jury in Pensacola convicted Gill of operating an illegal loan company under the guise of a business that sold time on the Internet. A 10-year prison sentence awaits Gill in the Sunshine State should he ever be apprehended.
Real estate battle
Among his many assets, Gill had interest in hundreds of properties, from shotgun houses to strip malls, in Muscogee County before his departure. Control of the real estate management business he established is at the heart of a complicated legal battle that recently began in Columbus.
The managers of the business, the South East Enterprise Group, claimed in a lawsuit that Gill’s brother, Loren C. Gill, barged into the business last month and announced without authority that he was taking over its operation. Loren Gill, who declined to comment for this article on advice from his attorney, vowed in court documents to file a counterclaim in the case alleging the managers of the leasing business are the “wrongdoers” and are trying to steal money from the family businesses.
“They have taken advantage of the fact that John Gill fled the country in 2009, and because he is no longer around, have embarked upon a carefully orchestrated plan to convert, divert, and wrongfully seize assets of the Gill family,” Thomas C. James III, the Macon attorney who represents Loren Gill, said in court filings. James did not respond to a request for comment.
The managers of the leasing business, Daniel Van Gasken and Kevin Hartshorn, say in court filings that they were appointed trustees of John Gill’s assets. They claim Loren Gill, who owns a furniture store in Tacoma, Wash., has no authority to take over the operation of the business, and are suing him for damages he allegedly caused last month when he came to town, changed the locks, posted armed guards at the entrance of the business and began depositing rent money into a separate bank account.
“Loren C. Gill is a menacing individual who shouts and harangues,” the plaintiffs claimed in court filings. “That, coupled with the fact that he is the brother of John Gill, who settled the property trusts twelve years ago, has made the employees believe that he has authority to do what he has done or in any event to follow his instructions out of fear of losing their jobs, something he has threatened.”
U.S. District Judge Clay D. Land intervened last month, issuing a preliminary injunction against Loren Gill after a lengthy evidentiary hearing in Columbus in which serious accusations flew from both sides. (Loren Gill’s attorney has noted, for instance, that Hartshorn is being sued by the United States government in Utah for an alleged tax evasion scheme.)
Land sided with the plaintiffs and ordered Loren Gill to vacate the Holly Avenue office, reset the locks and key codes, remove the guards and refrain from holding himself out as an employee of the business.
Land’s ruling “basically put things back the way they were and made very clear that ultimately a jury will decide this,” said John J.E. Markham, the Boston attorney and former federal prosecutor who represents Hartshorn and Van Gasken.
“So far as I know the judge’s order is being complied with in all respects. We’re obviously watching that to make sure that continues, but right now that’s the status,” Markham said in a phone interview last week.
“It’s by no means over,” Markham added. “It’s a good first start.””
Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN List Removal.
The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at email@example.com or at one of the offices listed above.