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Jail fails to keep `earl of Argyle’ from con games

SHARE Jail fails to keep `earl of Argyle’ from con games

From his jail cell, James Anthony Burns is still trying to con Bambi Tueller, although he's dropped his fake Scottish accent, she testified in 2nd District Court Tuesday.

Tueller spoke at the sentencing for Burns, who pleaded guilty to communications fraud, a second-degree felony, in an elaborate scheme that spanned the globe for 18 months.Second District Judge Jon Memmott sentenced Burns to one to 15 years in prison and ordered him to pay restitution to Tueller, who estimates her losses total nearly $140,000.

Burns claimed to be the Scottish earl of Argyle, a descendant of poet Robert Burns, an international businessman and scion of a wealthy family that disowned him because he wouldn't agree to an arranged marriage.

In reality, Burns, 38, was born in North Carolina and had abandoned one wife and two children in Florida when he came to Utah.

His kilt and Scottish garb were from a Salt Lake costume shop.

Tueller said Burns has sent her letters from jail since his February arrest, claiming he's written 13 children's stories and wanting to turn them over to her for publication as restitution.

"Imagine that. Writing children's stories about morality," she said.

Tueller, who had tried to help Burns close international business deals and land jobs overseas, emptied her savings account, ran up $40,000 in credit-card debt and still faces a $4,800 telephone bill and $5,000 in lease fees on a computer, she testified.

She fell behind on mortgage payments because she used the money to support Burns. She was forced to sell her home and a rental house to avoid foreclosure, she said.

"He treated me like a precious jewel. I was up on a pedestal. But it was all manipulation," said Tueller, who is now rebuilding her Bountiful mortgage firm.

"He abandoned his own 4-year-old daughter while he was praising me to the heavens for how I was raising my four daughters. I was brainwashed," Tueller testified.

"Twenty years of good credit, all down the toilet. It was all manipulation. He's like a human tornado, destroying the life of anyone he comes in contact with.

"I don't want to be loved like this again," Tueller told the judge. "But my heart will heal faster than my pocketbook."

Burns even arranged their marriage while they were in England, Tueller said in an earlier interview. But the marriage was a sham. A British minister was duped, too, thinking the couple was renewing their wedding vows. Burns created a fake marriage certificate.

The charade fell apart in February when her family members investigated Burns while he and Tueller were in California for a job interview. Other interview trips, which were paid for by Tueller, were to Ireland and Hong Kong.

The investigation turned up boxes of forged papers, stolen documents and identification papers. The faxes from overseas firms were elaborate fakes, Tueller said, but always with just enough truth in them to make them believable.

In court Burns admitted he lied to Tueller, saying he did it to cover up his business and professional shortcomings. "I lied but not just for personal gain. I shouldn't have deceived and lied as long as I did.

"I did have job offers, but they fell through," Burns said. "I should have been honest about it. I have had a problem in not telling the truth.

"I lied to make myself look better than I was or to make things look better," said Burns, who also said he wants to repair Tueller, financially and emotionally.

Burns presented two character witnesses, his brother Carroll Burns, an Air Force sergeant, and Ronald George, who said he has dealt with Burns for six to seven years and who teaches international business at the University of Utah.

George said he found Burns to be "bright and capable" and has had a good relationship with him.

Carroll Burns said his brother has a problem telling the truth but he's never tried to harm anyone. "He knows he's done wrong and needs help," Carroll Burns said.

He noted his brother does do business internationally and does earn an income, but the payoffs are sometimes sporadic.

Carroll Burns' ex-wife, Ok Kum Burns, 34, is in prison for killing their 3-year-old son, Joshua, in 1994 in their Layton apartment.

Ok Kum Burns met Carroll Burns when he was stationed in her native South Korea in 1988 in the Air Force. They married and returned to the United States, when Carroll Burns, a supply sergeant, was transferred to Hill Air Force Base.

The marriage fell apart. In June 1994, Ok Kum Burns, fearing she had been abandoned and Carroll Burns would not take proper care of their autistic son, stabbed him to death with a steak knife and then tried to commit suicide with an overdose of pills.

Later, Judge Glenn Dawson ordered Carroll Burns to pay his ex-wife $100 a month in alimony for a year, noting she was destitute and a prison job earning her $17 a month was not enough to buy her basic necessities such as soap and toiletries.

Outraged by the order, Carroll Burns refused to pay it, starting a publicity campaign that attracted the attention of national tabloid newspapers and TV shows.

Dawson, who rendered the alimony decision, was scheduled to sentence James Burns Monday. When he learned Carroll Burns would testify, he declared a conflict of interest, and the case was transferred to Memmott.

Tuesday, Memmott said Burns has shown previously a pattern of criminal conduct, which appears to be escalating, and this case's fraud was ongoing and caused extensive financial loss.

Memmott set a restitution hearing for May 6.