A prominent Minneapolis attorney called Frances Emily Jones a "classic hard-luck case."
On the same day that the Superior Telegram reported that Jones was involved in an identity-theft ring allegedly responsible for stealing more than $2 million, she was killed in a traffic accident on slippery roads in the Village of Superior. Her identity and that of another victim were not immediately released after the crash.
Jones, 41, and Harry Wilson, 49, were killed Friday when the Ford Explorer Wilson was driving collided with another vehicle on Tower Avenue at 69th Street. Jones had pleaded guilty Jan. 17 in federal court in Minneapolis to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.
She was represented by defense attorney Fred Bruno, who was appointed to the case by the federal public defender in Minneapolis. Among clients Bruno has represented are University of Minnesota tutor and athletic department whistleblower Jan Gangelhoff and former Hennepin County Judge Harvey Ginsberg.
Bruno was reached by phone Monday night in Rochester, Minn.
"This is a tough one," he said of Jones' death. "I kind of took a particular interest in Frances because I thought she was a classic hard-luck case. I think that she worked real hard to keep her head above water and she associated with some people who didn't help in that effort very much."
Bruno said he was in the Twin Ports over the weekend and had planned on getting together with Jones for coffee, but it never happened.
"She was invested in her defense, she was cooperative, open and honest about everything," he said. "She made her appointments, was conscientious and did what I told her to do. The case was teed up for a pretty good outcome for Frances and she knew that. That's why this thing was a total shocker."
A relative who asked not to be named described Jones as "one of the nicest people I know; she'll be greatly missed."
The relative attributed Jones' legal difficulties to a friend who got her involved with the identity fraud ring that federal officials say is responsible for the theft of more than $2 million from financial institutions and retail businesses in at least 14 states.
"She had lost her job. It was one of those bad things that she shouldn't have done, but she needed to get by," the relative said, adding: "She was very soft-spoken. She would do anything for anyone that would have asked her for help."
Prosecutors did not return a call for comment to the News Tribune.
Friday's crash is still under investigation by the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, and autopsy results are not back. According to the Sheriff's Office, Wilson was northbound on Tower Avenue about 5 p.m. when his Explorer lost control and spun sideways into the path of a southbound Ford Escape driven by Joan Radzak, 46, of rural Superior.
After the collision, the Explorer rolled into a ditch, and Jones was thrown from the vehicle. Radzak was hospitalized at Essentia Health St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth.
"Road surfaces were slippery due to snow earlier in the day," the accident report said. "Rear tires of (Wilson's Explorer) were very worn and almost bald."
That report of driving conditions was echoed by Jones' lawyer, who said he was traveling on the same road where the accident occurred on Friday.
"I know there were some slippery spots," Bruno said. "Kind of slushy crap. I don't know what the reconstruction will show. I just see it as an accident."
The accident was the fourth the Superior Fire Department responded to in 90 minutes as snowfall made roadways treacherous.
A benefit dinner for Jones will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Bev's Jook Joint, 820 Tower Ave. in Superior.