(WGN-AM)- When Chicago sports radio personality Mike North returned to the spotlight in January with a new morning cable TV show, his special guests included Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz and Mayor Richard Daley. North also introduced sports fans to David Hernandez.
It was a quick interview with the head of the show's main sponsor, but here was Hernandez, a sports fanatic, being asked on camera what he would do "as a very successful businessman" if he owned the Bears?
Mike Ditka as a consultant, absolutely," he said.
Five months later, Hernandez, 48, was under arrest and hospitalized Monday after an apparent suicide attempt at a Super 8 motel in Downstate Normal, where he was staying alone under an assumed name, police said.
Hernandez had been on the run for days from federal authorities, who accused him of running a Ponzi scheme, diverting $11 million from investors to bankroll a new life that included sponsoring the cable show and starting Chicago Sports Webio, an Internet radio station, with North.
The bizarre circumstances of Hernandez's apparently meteoric rise and fall don't lead to easy pronouncements about what might have gone wrong for the aggressive entrepreneur, because a look at his life reveals that many of the facts he has told about himself over the years have proven false.
He said he graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a bachelor's degree in finance and a master's in business administration. He said he received a law degree from John Marshall Law School. He said he owned several payday lending stores. When he got in financial trouble and filed for bankruptcy in 2006, he claimed two partners illegally removed funds from a business.
All lies, according to court records, federal charges and interviews with people who know Hernandez.
One of the most stunning allegations against David Hernandez is that most of what he's accused of doing -- bilking investors and spending it on sports fantasies -- he's done before.
Twelve years ago, Hernandez perpetrated a strangely similar scheme while a vice president at Columbia National Bank in Chicago. He sold investments that promised big returns but kept the money, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on Bulls games and other Chicago sporting events. He then disappeared for more than two weeks as federal authorities were investigating, kidnapping his two young children during a bitter divorce fight. He pleaded guilty to child abduction in 1999.
In 1998, he pleaded guilty to embezzling $662,000 from bank investors.
Hernandez, who graduated from Morton East High School in Cicero in 1978, served two years in federal custody and five years of supervised release. He started rebuilding his life, but it didn't all go entirely free of accusations.
In 2007, three years after joining RPh On the Go, a Skokie-based pharmacy staffing firm, he tried to assemble an investor group to buy the company without telling anyone on the inside, according to a lawsuit filed by the company. That led to his firing, and the start up of his own firm in 2008, NextStep Medical Staffing. There were further allegations that he lured away several employees from RPh, used confidential documents and pursued customers in violation of an employment agreement.
A lawyer who represented RPh said Monday that the court issued an injunction preventing Hernandez from recruiting more RPh workers.
Hernandez faced a separate legal controversy in 2004, in which the government accused him of violating terms of his release by hiding aspects of his finances from his probation office and failing to report his remarriage.
Hernandez disputed the accusations in a court filing, describing himself as reformed, a model citizen who drove his kids to sleepovers and coached football. He also informed the court that he had a 140 IQ and was, according to an employer psychological test, to be "highly qualified for promotion."
The details of how Hernandez came to arrange for NextStep Medical to sponsor Mike North's show on Comcast SportsNet Chicago, and then bankroll Webio, aren't clear. Nor is it known how he kept his previous convictions an apparent secret. But North and co-host Dan Jiggetts acknowledged on their cable show having known Hernandez for years. Colleagues said he boasted of being a longtime caller to North's WSCR radio show.
Jiggetts declined to comment on his relationship with Hernandez, and North did not return a request for comment Monday.
In the Webio case, Hernandez is accused of diverting millions of dollars raised from investors for a payday-loan business for personal expenses and for starting the site. He had promised rates of return as high as 16 percent per month.
The scheme began to unravel several weeks ago when payroll checks at Webio began bouncing. Hernandez had several explanations -- bank errors, computer problems and embezzlement by an employee -- but the government was soon investigating.
"There are a lot of things that don't add up in retrospect," said Jeff Schwartz, who was Chicago Sports Webio's senior vice president for sales. That included lavish spending on advertising and travel to Blackhawks playoff games.
His wife reported him missing to Downers Grove police on June 15 when he failed to return home after a meeting with Webio staff.
The FBI issued a warrant for his arrest on Wednesday, but sources said federal agents didn't have any solid leads on Hernandez's whereabouts until Normal police discovered him shortly before 11 a.m. Monday.
Super 8 hotel management entered his room after employees had not seen or heard from him for a few days. Employees found him on his bed but could not tell whether he was unconscious or sleeping and called police. Hernandez had suffered cuts to at least one wrist, said a law enforcement source. Police found his ID and learned of his arrest warrant.
Normal Police Chief Kent Crutcher said his agency is looking into whether Hernandez tried to commit suicide. He said Hernandez's condition is not "life threatening," but he was to remain overnight in an area hospital.
(The Chicago Tribune contributed to this story)
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