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Sue Ellen Allen once wore a crystal-studded frog pin on the back of her blouse, hoping to get attention for her costume-jewelry business. The gimmick worked. In the early Nineties, jewelry from Tempe-based Collectibles by Sue Ellen was featured in fashion periodicals like Women's Wear Daily and in stores like Saks Fifth Avenue. She even got a contract with the Vatican.
But Collectibles by Sue Ellen went bankrupt in 1993, and, these days, Sue Ellen's not looking for attention.
But law enforcers are looking for her. Apparently, she's on the lam.
She and her husband/business partner, William David Grammer, were indicted by a grand jury in November and charged with defrauding 29 investors out of $1.3 million. The indictments came as the result of a 20-month investigation by the securities division of the Arizona Corporation Commission.
Allen and Grammer--who both pleaded not guilty--missed a court appearance August 2, and Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Seidel issued a bench warrant for their arrest, according to Karie Kloos, spokeswoman for the Arizona Attorney General's Office.
Greg Clark and Jim Logan, Allen and Grammer's court-appointed attorneys, say they haven't heard from their clients in weeks. Clark says his client, Allen, had permission to travel out of state, and that she told him earlier this summer that she was going to Texas to visit her mother.
Peggy Dyer, who once did public relations for Collectibles by Sue Ellen, believes Allen's apparent flight "speaks volumes" about Allen's guilt.
Dyer says she has no idea where Allen and Grammer are. The phone number to Allen's Phoenix office has been disconnected. There is no forwarding number.
At the peak of her success, Allen made headlines in society columns by designing a "thousand points of light" pin for Barbara Bush and a bald eagle for Margaret Thatcher. One of her signature pieces was a large, studded leopard she called Glamourpuss. Each pin was accompanied by a poem written by Allen, whose work has been published in Cosmopolitan magazine.
One of her poems, titled "Tilt-A-Whirl," begins:
I took my life
Like a ride at the fair.
After her business went under, Allen became a motivational speaker. She also wrote about business ethics for publications including the Arizona Business Gazette, and she was a speaker at the 1994 Arizona Governor's Conference on Women and Business. The topic: her doomed company. She told the conference she had made the mistake of attending business meetings without a lawyer.
With her bright, red hair pulled back with a bow and her thousand-points-of-light pin on her shoulder, Allen warned the women assembled that "the highways are littered with the corpses of small businesses that have failed."
She passed out brochures advertising seminars on self-esteem, marketing, networking, change, personal development, professional growth, entrepreneurship and international culture and protocol.
Allen, who had been named Business Owner of the Year in 1992 by the Arizona chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, resigned as president-elect of the organization months before she was indicted.
According to Attorney General Grant Woods, Collectibles by Sue Ellen was never as lucrative as its owners wanted investors to believe.
At the time of the indictments, Woods said, "Grammer and Allen are accused of inducing victims to invest in their jewelry business using false financial information. . . . We allege investors in this company were led to believe Sue Ellen, Inc., was making a lot more money than it actually was."
She says, "I think that [Allen and Grammer] knew what they were doing all along and they feel that maybe their noose is getting a little shorter and that they may well be found guilty, which they are."
A hearing has been scheduled for September 12 to determine whether Allen and Grammer can be tried in absentia, Kloos says. The trial is tentatively scheduled for October 10.
Clark says his clients disappear "all the time." But, he adds, "You always see them again. It's very, very difficult to stay disappeared.