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Tim Durham closes New Castle restaurant

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Embattled Indianapolis businessman Tim Durham this week closed his downtown New Castle restaurant, Durhams Ristorante, after about two years of operation.

A sign on the restaurant door says “closed until further notice.” The restaurant’s kitchen manager told the New Castle Courier Times it shut down because of financial problems.

Durham teamed with local restaurateur Henri Najem to open the moderately priced Italian eatery. It originally operated as Bella Vita, but Durham changed the name after he and Najem, who operates Bella Vita restaurants in Geist and downtown Indianapolis, parted ways early last year.

Durham’s businesses have been in a tailspin since last fall, when FBI agents raided his Chase Tower offices and the offices of Fair Finance Co., an Akron, Ohio,  consumer-loan firm he co-owns.

The raids occurred one month after IBJ published an investigative story that raised questions about whether Fair had the financial wherewithal to repay Ohio investors who purchased more than $200 million in unsecured investment certificates.

The story reported that, since Durham bought Fair in 2002, he had used it almost like a personal bank to fund a range of business interests, many of them unsuccessful, and to support a lavish lifestyle. The story noted that he and related parties owe Fair more than $168 million. (For more Durham coverage, click here.)

Fair never reopened after the raids, and creditors forced it into bankruptcy early this year. Bankruptcy attorneys expect Fair investors who purchased certificates—a largely blue-collar, elderly lot—to recover only a small fraction of what they’re owed.

Durham, 48, has acknowledged he owes Fair a bundle but has denied doing anything wrong. In court papers, he said the offering circulars provided to prospective investors outlined the risks, including that they carried no government guarantee.

He’s turned over to the bankruptcy trustee more than two dozen cars, as well as expensive pieces of art. The assets will be auctioned, with proceeds going to certificate purchasers.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Indianapolis is overseeing an ongoing criminal investigation of Durham. Officials won't comment. But in court papers filed in November, they allege Fair operated as a Ponzi scheme, using money from new investors to pay off prior purchasers of investment certificates.

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