Fair Finance Co. failed to reopen its offices as scheduled Monday morning, adding to the anxiety of Ohioans who have purchased about $200 million of the company’s investment certificates.
The headquarters and branch offices of Akron, Ohio-based Fair were closed all of last week in celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday, according to company voice-mail message. That message said offices were to reopen Monday, but callers Monday morning continue to hear the outdated recording. The Akron Beacon Journal said a sign posted at the headquarters said the business was closed due to "unforeseen circumstances."
The future of the business has been uncertain since FBI agents on Nov. 24 executed search warrants and seized records and computer equipment at Fair and at the Indianapolis offices of Tim Durham, co-owner of the business.
The raid came one month after IBJ published an investigative story questioning whether Fair, which purchases customer-finance contracts from retailers and other firms, had the financial wherewithal to repay purchasers of its investment certificates. The company was allowed to sell the certificates—which range from six months to two years—only to Ohio residents.
The IBJ story reported that, since Durham bought Fair Finance from Donald Fair in 2002, he had used it almost like a personal bank to fund a range of business interests, some of them unsuccessful. The story noted that he and related parties owed Fair more than $168 million.
John Tompkins, an attorney for Durham, said this morning that he would have no comment on whether Fair would reopen or on other issues “until we know more about what is going on with the federal investigation.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Indianapolis on Nov. 24 filed court papers alleging Durham committed fraud and seeking forfeiture of his property, including his 30,000-square-foot Geist mansion, a home in Los Angeles and his 2008 Bugatti sports car.
The civil forfeiture action alleged Durham, his associates and his companies misled purchasers of investment certificates by telling them their money would go toward purchasing low-risk consumer loans.
In fact, court papers allege, the money went to carry out a Ponzi scheme, using money from new investors to pay what it owed prior investors, thereby “lulling the earlier victims into believing that their money was being [handled] responsibly.”
The government filed the case to ensure “these assets were not dissipated,” Tim Morrison, the U.S. attorney in Indianapolis, told IBJ this morning, but dismissed the case this morning. “Having the appropriate assurance they are not being dissipated, that litigation stopped,” said Morrison, who declined to say who provided that assurance.
Even if Fair Finance had reopened today, investors probably would not have been able to withdraw money. The company has been exercising its right to delay repaying principal on certificates that mature for 60 days. It also has been refusing to allow investors to cash in certificates before they mature.
Prior to 2003, the company had been “liberal in providing early redemptions if the investor had a need for the funds,” according to a letter an attorney for the company sent state regulators that year disclosing that it was changing that policy.
Now, the company takes the position that it is required to redeem certificates early only if the purchaser dies, though it reserves the right to make exceptions for other reasons.
Fair has not been permitted to sell new investment certificates since Nov. 24, when its previous securities registration expired. Fair has sought a new registration, but the Ohio Department of Commerce’s Division of Securities has not acted on that request.