Pro and Con
The fliers appeared on northeast Denver doorsteps in late November 2007. "Attention," they announced in bold letters. "The former East Family YMCA Center is now the new home of Harlan21 LLC." Vacant since the Y moved out a few years earlier, the rec center at 3540 East 31st Avenue would now offer all-ages sports programs, tournaments, affordable gym memberships and low-income daycare. Along with the flier, which invited neighbors to a special preview of the complex at 5:30 p.m. on December 5, a bottle of water was left at each door. "H21, Water with Altitude!" was emblazoned on the label next to a note from the company CEO: "Enjoy a piece of Colorado in every bottle that tastes so good. That is why I, AmAdeus, put my name on it."
"I, AmAdeus" was curiously capitalized, as if it were a mishmash of Latin and English sending the message "I am a god."
The fliers and bottles were just one element of Harlan21's frenzied last-minute effort to spread the word about the open house. The company's fifteen or so employees were also sending press releases to every newspaper, radio and television station in town, and pestering the mayor's office to see if they could add John Hickenlooper to the list of celebrity guests, a lineup that chief executive Amadeus Harlan had promised would include superstars like former Denver Bronco Shannon Sharpe, Denver Nuggets stars Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin, and ESPN broadcaster Keyshawn Johnson.
The event was going to be big — big like Harlan himself, who topped off his hefty six-foot-one frame with a shaved head, flashy jewelry and a massive smile. It didn't matter that Harlan had given his staff barely a week's notice about the open house. Or that the long-dormant 27,500-square-foot sports facility, plagued by broken windows, torn carpets and a warped and water-damaged gym floor, was still unfit for any sort of athletic activity. Or that his employees, all of whom had been hired in the past two months, were working in a ragged rec room on computers they'd brought from home.
"You don't need anything in the world. You don't need money. You don't need anybody," he told them. "You just need image."
Harlan's image was larger than life. He'd run sports tournaments across the country for Nike, he told his employees, thirteen of whom spoke to Westword. He said he was friends with Melo and another Nuggets superstar, Allen Iverson. But most important, the charismatic, 38-year-old Harlan bragged, he'd played for the Broncos.
Plus, Harlan reminded them, they weren't just working for him. The sign of God was 777, which adds up to 21. Harlan21, in other words, was a partnership between him and the Almighty. "Who do you work for?" he'd ask his staff, and they knew the answer: "You and God, Amadeus."
But by December 4, the day before the open house, those working at Harlan21 were feeling anything but blessed. Before moving into the rec center three weeks earlier, the company was supposed to have been making money by hosting fee-based sports tournaments around town. But the operation was so disorganized that the handful of tournaments that had occurred drew few, if any, participants. Now paychecks were bouncing and contractors were complaining about not getting paid.
Harlan had asked several employees to cash personal checks for him, and those checks had bounced, too, causing the employees' bank accounts to be frozen. One of those impacted was Valerie Cisneros, Harlan's personal secretary, who depended on her bank account to receive child support for the five kids she raised alone. "I couldn't even access my own money," says Cisneros. "I couldn't feed my kids."
It would all work out, Harlan assured the staff. He was clearing it up with his bank. He had a small-business loan, he reminded them, and after the open house the next night, local residents would soon be paying big bucks to use the sports complex. A day earlier, he'd told his human resources director, Kionii Harvell, to get ready to hire 35 to 40 more employees in the next three weeks.
That afternoon, he promised, he would compensate those who needed it most, like Cisneros, and pay everyone else by the end of the week. In fact, he was going to the bank right after he attended a financial class associated with his business loan. "If someone gives you $5 million, they have to teach you how to spend it," he joked before getting into his car and driving off. "I'll be back here before 2 p.m., for sure."
None of Harlan's employees saw him again.
Baron Hall was working as a construction flagger late last September, directing traffic around a blacktop repair job on South Broadway, when a brand-new black Nissan Maxima with twenty-inch rims pulled over on the median nearby. The driver, a big man in a suit, got out and approached Hall. "You don't remember me?" the driver asked with a smile. "I'm Johnny Harlan."
Then Hall remembered. In the mid-1980s, Hall had been an equipment clerk at Skyland Recreation Center in northeast Denver; Johnny Lawain Harlan was one of the local boys who spent time there. "A typical teenager," Hall, 52, recalls. "A bright-eyed kid. Seemed like he had the whole world waiting for him." Hall hadn't seen him since; after working at the rec center, he'd gotten into drugs and robbery and spent much of his life behind bars. It looked to Hall as though the world had treated Harlan well in the meantime.
"I have my own company," said Harlan, who added that he now went by Amadeus. "Why don't you be my operations manager? I'll pay you $50,000 a year."
Hall started working for Harlan21 right away. Since the company was in the process of moving into a new office, the operations manager spent his first few weeks working from home, hiring additional employees through Craigslist ads. In early October, Harlan21 took over a fourth-floor suite in an office building at 3801 East Florida Avenue. There were five employees, all of them new, working under Harlan; the boss explained that his old employees had been fired.
Harlan passed out employee handbooks that listed benefits such as child care, life insurance and a savings plan. The idea was simple, he explained: They would host tournaments — basketball, dodgeball, flag football and whatever else suited their fancy — all over the city. They'd be making money and giving back to the community at the same time. Revenue would be generated by entry fees minus cash prizes for tournament winners and minimal overhead. Plus, Harlan21 would sell its own water, said Harlan, showing them the "H21" bottles. All in all, he said, he expected them to clear tens of thousands of dollars per tournament.
"His concept seemed brilliant," says Joe Pineda, who, as a $50,000-a-year promoter, was supposed to organize five tournaments a month.
"It sounded like a pretty good idea," adds Hall, but parts of Harlan's story left him worried. Harlan would often brag about his past. He'd hint that he'd been in trouble with the law, but mostly he'd talk about his days as a pro football player. Before working for Nike, he said, he'd been a running back for Texas Tech University, then got signed with the Dallas Cowboys and, finally, with the Broncos. He added that he had rings from the Broncos' 1997 and 1998 Super Bowl victories sitting on his mantel at home.
He also had a tattoo on his left arm reading "XXI" — which may have been the so-called number of God or a reference to his Broncos number (or even Super Bowl XXI, which the team played against the New York Giants). "He never made it clear the tattoo was from the Broncos," says Pineda, "but everyone put things together."
When Hall said he'd never heard of him playing for the Broncos, Harlan brushed him off, saying, "You've been gone a long time." But Hall had followed the Broncos all his life; in east Denver, where both men had grown up in the 1970s and '80s, the Broncos were the biggest thing in town. Players like Rick Upchurch visited their neighborhood and stopped by the rec center. "These guys were the superheroes," says Hall. "They had fancy cars and big, fancy homes. Everyone wanted to emulate them."
While Harlan would often tell Hall to stop talking about his criminal past — as if keeping secrets were expected — Hall said he'd rather be honest. "You don't have to lie to people to get them to accept you. Be honest," Hall says he told his boss. "He just looked at me and said, 'Whatever,'" Hall remembers. "He said it didn't matter."
Fran, a former gym teacher at North Middle School in Aurora, will never forget the first time she met the eighth-grade boy who would grow up to be Amadeus Harlan.
It started with a fight on the playground, she remembers, a fight that was broken up by a handsome, broad-shouldered boy. Afterward, he made a beeline for Fran. "I didn't know this kid from Adam," she recalls. "He came up to me with a baseball bat and imitated Howard Cosell, talking into the bat like it was a microphone."
That make-believe Monday Night Football commentator was Johnny Harlan.
"He kind of attached himself to me. He had a lot of problems at home. His mother was not the best mother in the world, so he was looking for somebody to look up to," says Fran, who asked that her last name not be used. But domestic strife didn't keep him down: "He was funny. He was very sharp. He had the gift of gab. He always had a way with females."
She noticed, though, that he sometimes played fast and loose with the truth. "He was a con artist way back," she says. "He would exaggerate his home life with other kids. He would make it out to be very good."
Fran didn't hear much from Harlan after he left North until March 1985, when Harlan, now fifteen and at Central High School in Aurora, called. "He told me he had gotten into a fight outside of a bar and had been shot in the hand." She read a different story in the paper the next day: Lorenzo McCoy, a man who'd been close with Harlan and his mother, had been found shot to death in his apartment. Harlan was charged with murder. The district attorney's office believed the boy was mad at McCoy for hurting his mother and had killed McCoy, then shot himself in the hand to make it look like self-defense.
Fran didn't believe it: "I don't see him as someone who would commit murder. That's not the person he is."
Gordie Albi, a volunteer for activist organization Cornerstone Peace and Justice who began working with Harlan at the Denver County Jail while he was awaiting his trial, agrees. "There was no way he could have done it. I am sure of it as anything I can imagine," says Albi, who's worked with troubled youth and in addictions counseling. "Johnny was dealt just about as bad a hand as anybody I had ever met."
She says Harlan talked to her about playing football in high school and how he wanted to be on the Broncos team someday. "He was sure he was going to be able to get back into football and become a pro," she says. "That was his life dream."
Although McCoy had a history of violence and a ballistics expert suggested that Harlan's wound did not appear to be self-inflicted, the jury seemed to agree with the district attorney's closing-argument depiction of Harlan: "His lies become significant, his repeated lies, because they indicate a callousness, a control, a design, a disregard for human life, which I submit is totally inconsistent with an inadvertent killing, with a killing done in self-defense."
The jury found Harlan, who was tried as an adult, guilty of second-degree murder, and the judge sentenced him to twelve years and a day in prison.
"Johnny was terrified and crushed," remembers Albi. "He was afraid he was going to come out of prison worse than before."
Harlan21's first event, a five-on-five double-elimination basketball tournament, was scheduled for the weekend of October 20, and by all indications, it was going to be a success. The company had lined up a venue: the parking lot of the Gateway Park Wells Fargo Bank, at 3521 North Tower Road in Aurora. The employees visited local schools and sporting events, distributing posters advertising a $2,500 first-place prize and $40-per-person entry fees. At 8 a.m. the day of the tournament, roughly seven teams showed up — not the several dozen teams Harlan had been hoping for, but considering that each seven-person team netted the company $280, not too shabby, either.
There was only one problem: The disassembled basketball nets, purchased from Wal-Mart, were locked inside the bank. By the time the nets were obtained and assembled, it was past noon, and only a handful of teams were left to play. Harlan was furious, telling his staff he'd blown an inexplicable $17,000 on the event, says Pineda.
Other events began to fall apart, too. After the fiasco at Wells Fargo, the Chase Bank at 4791 Tower Road canceled a basketball tournament scheduled for its parking lot. Harlan21 then hosted a basketball tournament at the Bladium Sports and Fitness Club at 2400 Central Park Boulevard in Denver, but no one showed up. "It was a pretty fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants operation," says a Bladium representative.
But Harlan continued to live large. When he wasn't driving his Maxima, he was behind the wheel of a fully loaded black Chevrolet Avalanche he'd nicknamed "Megatron." And he said he had employees running tournaments for him in Arizona and New Mexico — employees who were evidently much more successful than his staff in Denver.
Harlan also began looking into buying a $694,000 house in Saddle Rock for himself, his wife, Christine Trujillo, and their three children. Harlan and Trujillo, who couldn't be reached for comment, lived in east Denver off Tower Road at the time. "He was ready to get rolling on the property," says his realtor, who asked to remain anonymous, "but he never did get his Social Security number to the mortgage broker."
By this point, some Harlan21 employees were getting suspicious. Harlan was not only cagey about his own background, but he became furtive about his employees' identities, too. He insisted they use made-up names on their business cards, like "Joe Bling," "Evan Chop" and "Jillibean." "He was really big on identity theft," says Virginia Reyna, one of his employees. "He said he would never give out our Social Security numbers, that they were going in a vault so nobody could see them." And while he acted as if he was financially well off, he became stingy whenever the company needed equipment or supplies. "Every time I would ask him to help, all he would say is, all you want is money, money, money," says Hall, who asserts that he donated computer printers and had to pay for paper, ink cartridges and advertising himself.
Soon after the Wells Fargo tournament, employee Evan Johannigman approached his boss for an advance on his paycheck. Harlan wrote him a personal check for $2,600 and told Johannigman to deposit it and give him $2,150 back in cash. Johannigman did as he was told, and later that afternoon, his debit card stopped working. The $2,600 check had been returned for insufficient funds. Soon it wasn't just Johannigman who was in financial trouble; when payday came in early November, several other people say, their checks bounced, too.
Harlan himself avoided repeated requests for a meeting with Westword (see story, page 18). An attorney representing him didn't return a call seeking comment.
"No matter what happens, you will get paid," Harlan reassured his apprehensive staff at the time, explaining that the checks had bounced because he was switching payroll companies. Some people didn't believe it; while Harlan indicated he had relationships with and loans from several different banks, such as Wells Fargo, Chase, Academy Bank and Bank of Denver, they had seen little proof that there was any actual money behind the operation. A few employees quit. "He seemed to be strict and semi-organized, but he had no idea how to run a business," says Brittany Joyce Rienart, who worked for Harlan for nine days.
Johannigman, Pineda and Hall stayed on and hoped for the best — and they were soon joined by new hires, including an older man named "Winchester," whom Harlan introduced as his father. Their boss was confident, assuring — and slick. "He's really good at making you think what he wants you to think," says Johannigman. "He will belittle you into thinking that you are in the wrong, so you try to be in the right. When you are in the right again, you have always forgotten about your issue. If that man was a motivational speaker, he could move oceans."
In mid-November, Roger Young, owner of the executive suite Harlan21 had leased on East Florida Avenue, told the company he was going to disconnect its phone and Internet access. The checks Harlan had written for the $1,500 lease had bounced. Harlan took the hint. He told his employees to pack up and move the operation out — in the middle of the night. Harlan21 was moving on to bigger and better things.
The man walked into the Kuni Lexus dealership in Littleton the night of October 23, 1995, and introduced himself as Naudeus Harlan. "He was a big guy, pretty buff, and he said he was a brand-new sign-up for the Broncos," remembers Ronald Yontz, a salesman there at the time. Harlan told Yontz he was a recent graduate of Texas Tech, that his first game was that weekend — please root for him — and that he wanted a car.
Harlan talked casually about his alma mater with a salesman who also went to Texas Tech, then handed over a phone number he said was for the Broncos' front office. When the dealership called the number, a man on the other end said yes, Harlan was a new player. That's all the dealership needed to hear.
Harlan drove out of the dealership that night in a $32,000 white BMW 325 after giving Yontz a $4,000 down-payment check signed by a woman Harlan said was his mother (he explained he hadn't yet been paid by the team). A few days later, the check was returned for insufficient funds.
"I've been in the business a long time," says Yontz. "It's hard to fool me, but he did. He was pretty damn sharp."
Russ Hoffman, the Littleton police detective assigned to the case, was also surprised. He discovered the phony football star was actually 26-year-old Johnny Harlan, who, according to police records, had changed his first name to Amadeus and been living from one run-in with the law to the next. In January 1991, Harlan had been released on probation from his prison sentence for the murder of McCoy, but his parole was revoked a year later when he was arrested for vehicle theft. He was out again in 1993, only to be charged with criminal impersonation and forgery in 1994 after he was pulled over for speeding in a car containing forged documents and telling the officer his name was Amadeus Storm.
Hoffman also learned that Harlan's first cousin was headline-grabbing killer Robert Harlan, convicted of raping and murdering casino waitress Rhonda Maloney in 1994 and paralyzing a woman who tried to rescue her. He also discovered that Robert's father and Amadeus's uncle, Belt Harlan, had been a Denver police officer who'd made headlines for violent outbursts; he had shot his wife in the stomach in what was allegedly an accident and had brandished his gun in an altercation at a fried-chicken restaurant.
As newspapers and even the news program Inside Edition soon reported, the BMW wasn't the only vehicle Harlan conned his way into by claiming to be a Bronco. He nabbed an $11,000 Suzuki GSX-R motorcycle from Grand Prix Motor Sports in Sheridan and even scored an $18,000 Maxima from a John Elway dealership. "He said he was on the practice squad," Elway admitted to the Denver Post at the time. "We have a bunch of [Broncos] who always go [to the dealership], so we obviously believed him."
Harlan used the same story to convince several women to pay for hotel rooms and dinners, to buy him gifts like snow tires and gold dice and even bail him out of jail, promising to reimburse them once he got his first NFL check. He persuaded one to let him borrow her car, then removed her stereo because he said he wanted to replace it. He never did.
"He found the key to the city by saying he was a Bronco," says Hoffman. "It just opened up all kinds of doors for him."
Hoffman obtained Harlan's cell-phone number and called him up. "He basically said, 'If you can catch me, good for you, but I am not coming in,'" the detective remembers. "'If you are such a good detective, come find me.'"
A few days later, Hoffman got a call from NFL security. They'd received a fax from a teacher in Lubbock, Texas — the location of football powerhouse Texas Tech, as well as the town where several of Harlan's relatives lived. It turned out that a man going by the name of Naudeus Harlan was speaking to local school classes there about being a Bronco. Hoffman contacted Lubbock police and told them to be on the lookout for a white BMW 325. They called him back the next day; they had Harlan in the back of a squad car. The Littleton detective asked to speak to him. "What do you think of my detective skills now?" he asked Harlan over the phone.
Harlan eventually cooperated with Arapahoe County prosecutors, pleading guilty to theft and aggravated auto theft — but not before getting in some last words. In a jailhouse interview with a Lubbock television station, Harlan blamed police corruption and his relation to Robert Harlan for his problems with the law — and vowed to hire O.J. Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran to fight for his freedom.
"I haven't forged anybody's name. I haven't gone and bought a car," he insisted. "I haven't done these things they say I'm doing."
The entirety of Harlan21 marched into the old YMCA building at 3540 East 31st Avenue like a well-oiled machine. Sharply dressed and confident, the employees flashed business cards emblazoned with the fanciful names Harlan had assigned them. In the middle of it all, talking about his Super Bowl rings and his friendship with NBA stars, was Harlan. "This is the facility I want," he said about the building. "I gotta have it."
"When he walked in the door, he was bigger than life," says Anthony Coleman, the realtor representing the building's seller. "We were hanging on every word." Never mind that he hadn't checked Harlan's background. So what if Harlan said he wanted to lease the $2.5 million center for $16,000 a month and purchase it in six months instead of buying it outright, as the seller preferred? Who cared that Harlan gave him a personal check to cover the $50,000 security deposit rather than a more reliable cashier's check? "He was an ex-Denver Bronco," adds Coleman. "He had the flash. Everything was good."
Harlan21 moved into the facility in mid-November, and when Harlan arrived at work each day, he parked his Avalanche in the center of the circular driveway. "You know why I do that? To put myself on a pedestal," Pineda remembers him saying. "It's all part of the show."
Now the company wouldn't have to troll for tournament locations; participants would come to them. According to the plan, the complex would soon host senior programs, youth-oriented events and tutoring, along with dodgeball, basketball and other tournaments, all of which would be publicized on a new website, http://harlan21.com. But for the time being, the newly christened Harlan21 Sports Complex was too dilapidated to hold events — and the company itself wasn't in good shape, either. More employees had received warnings from their banks; it seemed that every paycheck Harlan wrote had bounced. That was the last straw for several staff members. Hall quit, as did Pineda and Johannigman, all of whom notified the state labor department and the police.
"Three months with no pay, that really hurt," says Hall. "It was too good to be true. Some alarm should have gone off in my head."
There were more than enough new hires to fill their shoes. Harlan convinced two waitresses he met at local restaurants to be his secretaries and contracted with a corporation Coleman operated to help establish a non-profit Harlan21 offshoot to track down additional funding sources. "He kept telling me he had to hire on 75 people," says Coleman.
But other things weren't getting paid for, either, such as employee health-insurance policies, the Bladium rental, advertising in Westword and publicity materials.
"I really felt good about this guy," says Signal Graphics owner Joe Collins, which designed some Harlan21 tournament posters. "He took me for almost $1,000."
Worse yet, Harlan convinced his realtor and the agent he'd contacted about health insurance to loan him several hundred dollars — money they never got back. Harlan also owed $4,000 to Denver-based New Age Beverage for 9,600 bottles of custom-made H21 water, says company representative Rob Curtis.
Finally the building's owner called: Harlan's $50,000 check had bounced. Then the $15,000 check Coleman's corporation received for its consulting agreement came back bad, too. Harlan blamed his former employees, saying they had embezzled money and sabotaged his bank accounts. He reproached his staff, explaining he'd lost access to his loans because they weren't organizing successful events. He told them to stop depositing his checks in their bank accounts, suggesting they try instant check-cashing stores instead. "I am not sure how he thought he was going to get away with it," says employee Virginia Reyna. "Every day was another day of craziness."
That craziness was going to stop, Harlan promised. He had a new idea: an open house on December 5 to let the neighborhood know about Harlan21. Then the money would roll in, paychecks would clear and debts would be paid. No one needed to worry; Harlan was going to make things right.
They had his word on it.
As Keith remembers it, there was nothing remarkable about his February 2002 visit to Len Lyall Chevrolet at 14500 East Colfax Avenue in Aurora. He was looking for a car, took one for a test drive but didn't buy it. "They couldn't make the deal I wanted, so I left," he says now. He might not have recalled the salesman he talked to at all, if not for the man's unusual name: Amadeus Harlan.
That name came up again seven months later when a police officer called Keith from Bakersfield, California, and said they'd found his stolen car, a 2000 Cadillac Escalade. Keith didn't own an Escalade, nor had he reported a car stolen.
Keith, who asked that his last name not be used, requested a credit report and was surprised to discover that he was not just the owner of the Escalade, purchased in Centennial, but he'd also evidently obtained several thousand dollars in cash loans and was the co-owner of both a $36,000 Mercedes C320, bought from a dealership in Englewood, and a $31,000 Ford Mustang obtained from Sil-TerHar Motors in Broomfield. The co-owner was Amadeus Harlan.
Keith remembered that at Len Lyall, Harlan had photocopied Keith's Colorado driver's license — an older variety that listed his Social Security number. Harlan must have used it, he realized, to create false identification. When he met Harlan at the dealership, Keith had no way of knowing that he'd been paroled from prison for his 1995 car-theft crimes just two months earlier.
"I only met the guy once, and he tore my credit up," says Keith, who filed a police report. "I don't know why they keep giving him chances."
According to police records, Harlan's Len Lyall job application noted that he was previously employed at John Elway AutoNation Ford. AutoNation did not return phone calls, and Dan Johnson, Len Lyall's general manager, says he can't say if Harlan ever worked for his dealership: "We went to a whole new computer system in 2005, so I would have to check off-site records, and I am not willing to do that."
A salesman at Sil-TerHar Motors, however, vividly remembers Harlan buying a $31,000 Mustang there just a month later. Since Harlan had poor credit, he told the salesman that his brother was going to co-sign for the Mustang. His brother wasn't with him at the dealership, but Harlan gave the salesman his brother's information — all of which was actually Keith's. "It was totally out of the norm for us to do so, but he convinced us his brother was not going to be able to come into the dealership," says the salesman, who asked to remain anonymous. Harlan took the salesman to a post office, introduced a man working there as his brother and had him co-sign for the Mustang. "He definitely worked the system," says the salesman. "I guarantee we have since changed the way we deal with people."
Harlan didn't mention being a pro football player at Sil-TerHar, but that didn't mean he'd put his old con to rest. One night in early 2003, Harlan walked into Stevinson Lexus at 801 Indiana Street in Lakewood and said he played for the Broncos. "He had the look of an athlete," admits general manager Steve Szekula, but he wasn't convinced — especially when he looked up his name later on the Internet and found no mention of Harlan as a Broncos player. Szekula called a Lakewood police detective, and they set up a sting. The next day, he called Harlan back and said he had a deal he couldn't refuse. "As soon as he came in and signed the credit application that he was a Denver Broncos football player, he committed forgery and perjury, and the cops came in and arrested him," says Szekula.
Harlan's parole was revoked, but the penal system wouldn't hold him for long. He was paroled again in June 2003, used a bad check to obtain a motorcycle from Thunder Mountain Harley-Davidson in Loveland and absconded again. When he was arrested in 2004, he faced more serious charges. According to a U.S. District Court indictment, in late 2002 Harlan had broken into the post office in Nucla and stolen money orders.
He was paroled in March 2005, but he was soon up to his old ways. That month, he used bad checks to take an $18,000 Lincoln LS from RD Motors in Lakewood. Later that summer, he showed up in Lubbock, Texas, using more bad checks to pay for a hotel room. In August, back in Denver, he provided police with several false names when he was arrested and charged with domestic violence after a fight with his wife.
"He's sort of an argument for a 'three strikes and you're out' law," says Greg Goodwin, owner of the Kuni Lexus dealership. "It seems like the system is sort of helping him do this."
Paroled again this past summer, Harlan began working for Denver-based Legal Aid National Services, or LANS Corp. The company offered phone-based, low-cost legal aid services, but past employees have raised questions about the operation — and the Colorado Attorney General's Office is currently investigating it, says department spokesman Nate Strauch.
"LANS Corp. ended up being a big scam," says Thomas Carrigan, the company's former national director of recruiting. "A lot of people got hurt very, very badly." Former staff members say the lawyers and paralegals working with the corporation often wouldn't get paid, and clients who paid for services would sometimes be left without legal help or a refund. They note that the company often used Craigslist ads to hire people with criminal backgrounds to man the phones, since they'd be less likely to complain if they never received a paycheck. Harlan fit the bill, and he was assigned to take clients' credit-card information when they called the 800-number listed on the LANS Corp. website, www.legalaideusa.com. Both the website and the 800-number are currently out of service.
Harlan eventually quit because, like his co-workers, he wasn't getting paid, says Vince Martinez, the company's former human-resources director — but he may have found the experience valuable.
In late September, Harlan filed for bankruptcy to wipe out the $80,000 worth of debt he owed for bad checks, court judgments and loans he'd never repaid. At roughly the same time, he registered a new limited-liability company, Harlan21, with the Colorado Secretary of State's Office. Then he leased offices at 3801 East Florida Avenue in Denver — in the same building and on the same floor that LANS Corp. had used.
The open house at the Harlan21 Sports Complex took place on December 5 as planned. Several dozen neighbors showed up and ate cake and drank H21 water in a large meeting room as employees explained the future plans for the facility. On a wall behind them, a large banner proclaimed, "Harlan21 LLC: We Bring the Game to You!" There was no appearance by the mayor, no sports superstars — and no Amadeus Harlan.
The staff tried to act confident, but they knew something was wrong. Harlan had never returned from his business-loan class the day before, and he wasn't answering his cell phone. That morning, about 24 hours after Harlan had disappeared, Winchester had showed up. His son had been in a bad car accident, he'd said; Harlan was in the hospital.
But when the staff began calling hospitals in the days after the open house, they found no record of Harlan. Instead, they discovered he was in jail for violating his parole. Harlan hadn't reported his company, his new cars or other recent activities to the probation officer he was assigned when he'd left prison the summer before, violating the terms of his release. Soon, Harlan's employees knew his whole history.
They also discovered that Harlan hadn't paid for at least one of his two flashy cars. He wrote a $41,000 check to Empire Nissan in Lakewood for the Maxima; when it bounced, he used credit information for a woman who worked in a different office at 3801 East Florida Avenue to finance the car, says a dealership employee.
"I had the misfortune of coming in contact with somebody who did things that I didn't know he was doing behind my back," says the woman, who asked to remain anonymous. "My information was taken from me without my consent and used in a way I had no knowledge of."
Amadeus's father has a troubled past of his own. His real name is Airia John Harlan, and his criminal history, which includes numerous drug arrests, dates back to a fraudulent check he wrote on March 13, 1969 — twelve days before his son Johnny was born. "There's nothing to talk about," Airia says by phone. "If [my son] calls me and tells me I should expose this information, then I will. Otherwise, I am off this phone."
The YMCA facility soon went back on the market. But a few days after Coleman changed the locks on the building, he received a call from a woman named Kaneisha Gilson, who wanted to know when she could get inside to open her daycare center. "We ended up giving Harlan $2,500 as a down payment for a space in the building we were going to lease," she says now. "And basically, the next day he was arrested."
Residents who'd been at the open house weren't happy, either; their hopes for a new neighborhood rec center had been dashed. "I was excited that we had something like the Y coming back," says Bobbie Brown, of North City Park. "I was just in shock when I found out it was not going to happen."
The Broncos have little to add. "When something like this is brought to our attention and we are asked to assist law enforcement in their investigation, we assist in every way possible," says media-relations director Paul Kirk, who wouldn't confirm whether the Broncos know about Harlan. "That information would be kept internal. But these things do happen, and when they happen, we try to be as helpful as we can."
A Denver detective is building a case based on what happened at Harlan21, says a police spokesman. In total, Harlan could owe more than $75,000 from bad checks and unpaid debt related to Harlan21, and since he is now incarcerated and unlikely to complete his bankruptcy filing, he might still be liable for the $80,000 in past debt.
The only thing Harlan actually left anyone, it seems, are questions. Why had he done it? What exactly had he hoped to gain — what was his angle — in creating Harlan21?
"I want to say he is a good guy and he wanted to make a bad thing right, but he never made anything right," Pineda says. "Maybe he did it because he likes attention. Attention from getting his ass kissed by all his employees. Attention from being a Broncos player. He loved that he was having us play a part in his story and he was getting away from it."
While cleaning up Harlan21's offices in the YMCA, Coleman found something that may bolster Pineda's theory: a book with Harlan's handwritten name on it, titled Malignant Self Love — Narcissism Revisited.
Someone from Harlan's past, Gordie Albi, believes everything he's done — the lies, the cons, Harlan21 — makes perfect sense. "That was his dream, to be a pro football player. It all comes from the dream that was taken away from him," she says. "He had no protection. He hasn't had any time to mature. So naturally he's going to keep doing the same thing. He is going to try to reach for his dream, over and over. The scams — that's what he's trying to do. He has never learned how to protect other people. Nobody ever protected him. Still a little boy trying to play for the Broncos."
The CEO of Harlan21 has his own explanation, one he offered at his parole violation hearing on December 13 at U.S. District Court in Denver. Dressed in a bright orange prison jumpsuit, stubble covering his usually clean-shaven head, Harlan admitted to, among other things, engaging in self-employment without the knowledge of his parole officer — but said he had a reason for doing so.
"Nobody wants a convicted murderer working for them. And they don't elaborate on whether it happened last week, last year, a month from then or anything," he said in court. So he'd started his own business, one based on noble intentions: "I opened a company in a neighborhood where the children, six out of ten, are involved with the police in criminal activity because they don't have nowhere to go.... My programs, if you look at it, if you look at the website, if you look at the fliers themselves, are geared to bring the family back together. Because I believe a family that plays sports together will stick together." Finally, he concluded, "My intent was not to defraud anybody, to take anybody fast, con anybody, as I've heard the term. People say I'm some kind of super con man, but I'm not. I was trying to do right."
U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock didn't buy it. "You were described by the Federal Bureau of Prisons case manager as a master manipulator. And there has been some mental-health evaluation of aggressive narcissistic personality and anti-social personality," Babcock told Harlan. "You know, those diagnoses fit your history. They are right on the money." The judge then sentenced him to six months in prison, the maximum allowed for his parole violation.
"The problem, really, is that I can only protect the public for six months," he added. "Your credibility, to be kind, is suspect. To be accurate is to say you have no credibility."
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