After six weeks on the lam, absconding from New Mexico just days before they were headed to federal prison for bilking vulnerable Ayudando Guardians Inc. clients of $11 million, Susan and William Harris were captured early Wednesday.
In the end, it was their pet Chihuahua that inadvertently gave them up.
“In keeping with its highest traditions and revered reputation, by tracking and apprehending these fugitives, the United States Marshals Service has demonstrated once again that any attempt to flee from justice is a fool’s errand,” said New Mexico U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson.
A U.S. Marshals Service-led fugitive task force, which included the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, tracked the couple to an apartment complex in Shawnee, Oklahoma, in recent days, said a spokesman for the Marshals Service in Albuquerque.
After the couple fled the state in late February, law enforcement officials who searched their upscale home in the gated Tanoan community believed they owned a Chihuahua, which was missing. There were photos of the dog in the house and other evidence of their fondness for the pooch.
And a neighbor recalled how he stopped hearing the dog’s usual bark when he was in his backyard. That was just a few days before the couple failed to appear for sentencing March 2 on multiple charges of money laundering and fraud.
Warrants for their arrest were immediately issued by U.S. District Judge Martha Vázquez of Santa Fe.
Harris, 73, and her husband, 58, had been free pending sentencing after both pleaded guilty last year.
William Harris would have only spent seven years in prison under the plea deal had he appeared for sentencing.
But his wife of more than 20 years was facing a minimum sentence of 30 years to life in prison as the former president of the nonprofit financial company, which handled finances for vulnerable people, including veterans and disabled clients.
The couple were scheduled for an initial appearance Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Oklahoma, where William Harris reportedly had family ties. They are expected to be returned to New Mexico for sentencing by Vázquez.
A Marshals Service spokesman told the Journal on Wednesday that the couple had been renting an apartment in Shawnee, a city with a population of 30,000 about 40 miles east of Oklahoma City.
Although details about how the couple were traced to Shawnee weren’t provided, the spokesman told the Journal that the task force agents had narrowed down the couple’s location and spied a telltale clue during surveillance.
From one of the apartments under surveillance came a Chihuahua out the front door. The dog dutifully ran back inside after a bathroom break. No one accompanied the dog.
“They had an idea that was the apartment,” the spokesman said, “but seeing the dog cinched it.”
An investigation into whether the couple, who apparently made no efforts to disguise their appearances, had assistance in their getaway is underway. And no information was available about the whereabouts of their dog.
Had they appeared for sentencing in March, both would have encountered a courtroom packed with victims who were waiting to testify about how they lost their savings and their trust in institutions.
Nearly 1,000 clients’ accounts were pilfered as far back as 2010, federal prosecutors have said. With Susan Harris as the “ringleader” of the scheme, millions were spent by the Harris couple, co-defendant Sharon Moore, who was the CFO, and Susan Harris’ son, Craig Young, to support a “lavish lifestyle” that included vacation cruises and luxury cars, prosecutors have said.
Both Young and William Harris worked as guardians in the firm, which was shut by the Marshals Service in 2017 after a federal investigation exposed the embezzlement.
“Thanks to the dedication of the Marshals Service, these defendants will face sentencing for their crimes, and their victims will be afforded some measure of closure to the lengthy ordeal they have endured,” Anderson said in a statement. “I also thank the Albuquerque and Oklahoma City divisions of the FBI, IRS-Criminal Investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office for their assistance in the fugitive investigation.”