SALT LAKE CITY -- Davis County prosecutors have refused to drop a criminal case against a suspected swindler even though the man reportedly died while on a business trip to China in June.
Now prosecutors and former associates of Thomas R. Blonquist are left wondering whether the attorney and businessman has pulled off the scam of faking his own death.
Blonquist, 72, was facing numerous civil lawsuits over unpaid loans and failed business deals as well as criminal securities fraud and elder abuse charges when he sought court permission to travel. The Salt Lake Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/olCZKD) the 72-year-old believed the trip promised a legitimate business deal that could net enough to repay his debts.
"He said there was no fraud or scam this time," said Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, who agreed to let Blonquist leave the country in June despite the pending criminal charges.
Rawlings was notified by the American consulate in Chengdu, China, of the death, so he wasn't surprised when Blonquist failed to appear at an Aug. 15 hearing.
Still, he asked a judge to issue a bench warrant for Blonquist's arrest. In most cases when a defendant dies, judges close the case and recall any outstanding warrants.
Twice since August, police have knocked on the door of Blonquist's Salt Lake City home, trying to serve the warrant.
"(They) want to arrest my father?" Tanner Blonquist said. "His ashes are on my piano."
For the family, the ongoing investigation has been indignity added to tragedy.
"It's my family's wish that they have a little bit of respect," Tanner Blonquist said. "I have a hard time grasping the audacity."
Authorities say they are still trying to confirm the death. Family members say they have provided prosecutors with copies of his death certificate and autopsy.
Rawlings remains committed to the cause, however, saying he owes it to victims. He also said new information raises questions about Blonquist's death, although he declined to be specific.
"Our focus right now is to find some way to objectively verify, one way or another, if Mr. Blonquist is deceased. If he is, of course, condolences to his family," Rawlings said. "I understand the family's desire for closure. On the other side of the coin, there are victims of Mr. Blonquist who want closure, too."
Some of Blonquist's alleged victims share Rawling's skepticism.
"He kept promising me the money," said Harry Weenig, who runs a Salt Lake County food distribution and loaned Blonquist money for a water-purification business. "On this last trip to China, he called ... and told my attorney he was going to bring back the money and pay it off. He didn't come back. It wouldn't surprise me to have him show up later."
Weenig won a court judgment against Blonquist in August.
At the time of his purported death, Blonquist was also being sued by a former client who claimed she was bilked out of $500,000.
Davis County prosecutors, meanwhile, had charged Blonquist with four second-degree felonies. They say he stole about $250,000 from a woman in her 80s who gave him money to invest in water purification technology.
Tanner Blonquist defended his father as a businessman hit hard by tough economic times.
"He died trying to get these people their money," he said. "You can call him a crook if you like, but he spent his last breaths attempting to make people the money back that they had invested. People need to know when they go into business deals that there's risk involved. ... In this economy and the down market, he had a hard time getting it back to them. That doesn't sound like a crook to me."