N4T Investigators: Justice denied - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: Justice denied

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Tucson - George Ochoa and Jeff Bleecker know it's usually disrespectful to criticize the recently departed. But they cannot garner any sympathy for John Puplava.

"I don't really wish death on anybody," Bleecker said. "But I was relieved."

Ochoa said, "He should have been in jail long ago."

Several other people told us because they lost so much money to Puplava, felt he lied to them so often, that they simply cannot feel sympathetic about his death.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators have reported on Puplava for two years, after numerous people who did business with him came to us saying that he ripped them off. 

Puplava died on Jan. 20 at the age of 33.

UPDATE FEB. 20, 2018: According to the Pima County Medical Examiner's report, the cause of death is accidental due to a combination of alcohol and the painkiller fentanyl. 

Regardless of how Puplava died, many people want to know why he was not in jail. They say Puplava stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from them in various schemes, mainly his house flipping business. 

Bleecker told the News 4 Tucson Investigators that Puplava stole $250,000 from him.

Bleecker is a private lender who gave Puplava money to renovate houses. Bleecker decided not to sue because he knew Puplava didn't pay even if ordered to by a judge. Indeed, Pima County Court records show several judgments against Puplava that he never paid. He was a defendant in 31 cases in Pima County, 30 of them civil. His long arrest record is mostly for misdemeanors, mainly for turning on the water at houses he didn't own. He never spent a day in jail and was not arrested after failing to pay fines or show up for court. 

"He's a compulsive liar and a scammer and he just would have went on to scam more people in the future," Bleecker said. "It seems like the police are not really aggressively focused on white-collar crime. You know, maybe it's too difficult for them to pursue, but there was a lot of evidence against him."

Deputy Cody Gress, a spokesman for the Pima County Sheriff's Department, said, "The issue that we had was that Mr. Puplava never had a permanent address. He never had a reliable address." 

 At the time of Puplava's death, the department was investigating him for fraud in two cases.

We asked Gress, "What do you say to all of John Puplava's alleged victims who are angry that you guys never arrested him?"

He said, "We had telephonic contact with him on multiple occasions, however, he always found a way to get out of meeting us in person."  Gress added, "Just because we have all this evidence, we still wanted to have that in-person contact with him so we could get his statement."

The News 4 Tucson Investigators found Puplava last May, staying in a hotel room on Oracle Rd. He refused to answer the door. 

George Ochoa says his dying father's credit card was stolen by Puplava, who allegedly used it to go on a spending spree in Las Vegas and Los Angeles chalking up $13,000 in charges in 10 days. Ochoa reported this to Pima County Sheriff's and gave them the credit card statement with Puplava's name on it, clearly showing all the transactions he rung up. This was eight months before Puplava died. He was never arrested. 

 Gress said, "Sometimes, we do have to put certain cases on the back burner to focus on other ones."

The credit card company told us that Puplava was not authorized to use the card and did not make Ochoa pay for the charges. 

So now, we wanted to know,  is there anything that Puplava's many alleged victims can do to try to get their money back? 

Craig Wisnom is an attorney with the Tucson firm Bogutz & Gordon who specializes in Estate and Trust Law. We asked him if the people who Puplava lost judgments to have any recourse to try to get their money back. Wisnom said, "If he owned real estate that was just in his own name, if he had a revocable trust, bank accounts, things like that, the victims would have a right to make claims against his estate."

However, Puplava apparently didn't leave many assets. Just weeks before he died, we received a call from a man who said he sold Puplava his truck for $4300. (Since our last report on him, Puplava had apparently been going by the name "John Charles"; Charles was his middle name.) The seller didn't feel right and learned from a friend about the News 4 Tucson Investigators previous reports. The seller later found out there was not enough money in Puplava's account to pay for the truck, so he confronted Puplava and got it back. That may have been John Puplava's final business transaction.

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators @kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

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