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Accused of Running a $400 million Pyramid Scheme,
Hotelier Michael E. Kelly Denied Bail

By Jeff Coen, Chicago TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Feb. 21, 2007 - Promises to post a private jet and other assets as bond were not enough Tuesday to persuade a federal judge to free an American businessman accused of bilking millions from investors in his Mexican properties.

Michael E. Kelly, accused of running a $400 million pyramid scheme, has three passports, four boats, five houses and at least a dozen cars, prosecutors told U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Mason at Kelly's detention hearing. Those homes are in Mexico and Panama, they said, and one of the passports is from Belize.

At one point in the hearing, Kelly's lawyer, Robert Tarun, had to take a moment to talk to his client and make sure he didn't have another plane somewhere.

Mason said those facts and the allegation that hundreds of millions of dollars could be unaccounted for in the case make Kelly too great a flight risk if he were freed on bond. Kelly, 57, could face life in prison if convicted of the alleged fraud.

Mason was unmoved by Tarun's argument that a Chicago federal court recently allowed alleged high-profile schemers such as Conrad Black and Antoin "Tony" Rezko to walkout of the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse after being charged.

"They were all presumed innocent and allowed to post bond," Tarun said.

Kelly, a hotel owner who has lived for the last six years in Cancun, Mexico, was taken into custody in December in Jacksonville.

He allegedly cheated investors by selling "universal leases" on Mexican time shares and guaranteeing high rates of return. Prosecutors say in fact that money coming in from new victims was being used to pay people who already had bought into the ploy and eventually the pyramid collapsed.

Prosecutors said Kelly has dual citizenship in Mexico and did not immediately reveal that he has several passports.

"Nothing offered by the defense says that he would stay here" if he were released, Assistant U.S. Atty. Edward Kohler said.

Tarun argued that Kelly had never been charged with a crime in his life prior to the fraud case. He was willing to post $1.2 million in property for his bond, including an Indiana raceway and his father's home.

Tarun said Kelly does not have significant assets of his own that could be posted. There are too many legal restrictions for him to post his Mexico properties, Tarun said.

Mason said that was partly why he is concerned about having Kelly out of detention pending trial.

"Your client appears to have the ability to get at a very large amount of money," the judge said.

jcoen@tribune.com

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Copyright (c) 2007, Chicago Tribune

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