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CASPER - Three Illinois doctors want $4.4 million owed by a former Campbell County Commission chairman after his conviction last year of defrauding them in an airline investment scheme, according to a federal lawsuit they filed.

But Willis Chrans has thwarted their efforts, according to the complaint filed by the doctors' attorney, Bruce Asay of Cheyenne.

"As a result of their enforcement efforts, Plaintiffs have learned that Chrans has deliberately engaged in a pattern and course of conduct designed to place the substantial majority of his assets out of Plaintiffs reach," according to the complaint filed in July.

Federal lawsuit

Chrans was a Campbell County commissioner and commission chairman in the early 1990s, and owns a real estate firm and several businesses in Wyoming and Montana, some of which were named in the federal lawsuit.

Chrans did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Ken Frazier, a Billings, Mont., attorney for two of the businesses in Chrans' alleged scheme, said the court on Tuesday approved an extension until Oct. 21 to respond to the lawsuit.

Frazier told the court a settlement was near in the case.

The story itself began a long time ago.

According to federal court records in Illinois, the scheme began in 1990 with Capital Aircraft, which set up companies that bought aircraft and leased them to airlines in South Africa and South America. Chrans was an advisor to these companies.

Fraudulent scheme

In 1995, Fayez Chehab began American Falcon, S.A., which provided charter airline services in Argentina and leased planes from American Capital, of which Chrans was a U.S. director. By 2000, Chehab and Chrans crafted a fraudulent scheme to prop up American Falcon so it could make the lease payments. Three doctors - Christopher Mallavarapu, Thomas Baron and Robert Trask - and their wives were solicited as investors.

Meanwhile, Chehab and Chrans misrepresented business deals, and American Falcon filed for bankruptcy in 2005.

The doctors were hearing that returns on the investments were just around the corner, and eventually realized their money was gone.

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So they sued Chehab, Chrans and others.

In September 2008, a federal jury in Springfield, Ill., convicted Chrans -other defendants had settled -in a civil racketeering lawsuit, and awarded Mallavarapu $1.6 million, Baron $650,000 and Trask $400,000, plus $500,000 each in punitive damages, according to court records. Interest and attorneys fees raised the amount to nearly $4.4 million.

They never received their money.

The three doctors later learned Chrans and family members from late 2004 to July 2009 had transferred money, refinanced debts, made insider transactions, fraudulently bought and transferred property, and did other deals through family entities including businesses and a trust "with actual intent to hinder, delay, or defraud Chrans' creditors," according to the doctors' Wyoming lawsuit.

The doctors want the court to "pierce the corporate veil" to hold Chrans and the other defendants responsible for the fraud, to impose an injunction to prevent more transfers, and appoint a receiver to take possession of Chrans' assets, according to the lawsuit.

Otherwise, they will have "nothing more than a paper judgment against Chrans for fraud damages in excess of $4.4 million, but no practical ability to enforce that judgment."

Contact Tom Morton at 307-266-0592 or tom.morton@trib.com. Read his blog at tribtown.trib.com/TomMorton/blog

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