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No Unusual Activity

by Wayne Scheer

Sam Jones, a man about as interesting as his name, seemed invisible at a ballgame, a hotel lobby or a grocery store. But for the second time in his life, he lived under the glare of a spotlight.

He was under surveillance by the FBI.

His checking account, mirroring his life, showed no unusual activity. His monthly salary from Hampton Press, where he worked as an accountant, was electronically deposited into his and his wife's joint account the last day of each month. He and Ellen withdrew most of it during the course of the following month to pay for routine expenses. They had less than $500 in a joint savings account. They paid their American Express and Visa cards monthly and Sam drove a four-year old Nissan Sentra.

Although Sam lived an existence as colorless as TV in the 1950s, the FBI watched him at work and as he drove the thirteen miles to and from his modest suburban home, where after dinner and some TV, he and his wife went to bed by 10:00.

Sam and Ellen generally stayed home Saturday to work around the house and watch a video rented from Redbox. They preferred romantic comedies, although they viewed an occasional action film. After church on Sunday, they visited with her family and in the evening ate at a local restaurant where Sam overindulged on the all-you-can-eat fried shrimp dinner. They were home by 7:30 and returned to their workweek routine.

Ellen Jones worked three days a week at the local library. She had worked there full-time until the previous year when, due to cutbacks, her hours were reduced. To make up the lost income, she added a part-time job at a nearby daycare facility. Her weekly salary checks were also deposited into their joint checking account. She drove a seven-year old Ford Taurus.

Sam and Ellen had been married for twelve years and had no children. Six months earlier, they had registered with an adoption agency. The routine background determined that in 2001, Samuel Ronald Jones, then 24, was investigated for robbing a bank in suburban Chicago.

His FBI files claimed the investigation inconclusive. Still, Sam and Ellen were denied adoption eligibility.

In fact, back in 2001, the FBI had questioned him because a grainy video showed he might be the bank robber. More than seven hundred thousand dollars had been stolen. Of the four potential witnesses, one identified Sam while the others said they couldn't be sure. He supplied a detailed account of his whereabouts at the time of the robbery. Although there was no absolute corroboration, a number of witnesses claimed to have seen a man who looked like Jones at the places he said he'd been. The FBI followed up by questioning his family, friends and employer, and after much unpleasantness and the loss of his job as a financial planner, the FBI suspended the investigation. The case was never solved. The money remained missing.

A year later, Sam and Ellen moved to Pennsylvania and they began their new life. Now the nightmare returned. Once again, the FBI questioned their employers, family and friends. Ellen lost her job at the daycare. Their application for adoption was rejected.

"We should get a lawyer," Ellen told her husband.

"No, no," he said, when she called him at his job. "Do you realize how expensive it would be to fight a government investigation? I don't want to cause trouble. I'll answer whatever questions they have, just as I did the last time." Suspecting their telephone was bugged, they said no more.

When two FBI agents came to his home, he patiently explained where he was at the time of the incident seven years earlier, and once again the FBI investigated his alibi. With the passage of time, none of the witnesses could be certain they saw or didn't see Sam Jones. The bank video remained inconclusive.

The FBI found nothing new and determined the case against Samuel Ronald Jones closed.

But during the investigation, many of Sam and Ellen's friends avoided them and he was passed up for promotion at his job.

But it hardly mattered because a few months after the FBI officially closed the case, Sam met Ellen at the airport where, with false identification, she had already purchased two tickets to Tahiti, which had no extradition arrangement with the United States. The seven hundred thousand dollars, sheltered in various accounts around the world, and wisely invested, was now worth three times that much.

After establishing residence in Tahiti, Sam and Ellen Jones, now Tom and Marilyn Williams, adopted a baby girl.

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