UPDATE: FBI searches Durham-owned company offices

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Ohio securities regulators say Tim Durham’s Fair Finance Co. won’t be permitted to sell additional investment certificates unless it satisfactorily answers a series of questions about the company’s ability to pay them back.

The FBI on Tuesday afternoon executed search warrants at Akron-based Fair and at Obsidian Enterprises Inc., Durham’s Indianapolis-based leveraged-buyout firm. FBI trucks late this afternoon were positioned on Monument Circle in Indianapolis as agents waited for boxes to be carried down from Obsidian’s headquarters atop Chase Tower.

The FBI action occurred the same day a 16-month-old securities registration that permitted Fair to sell investment certificates expired. An IBJ story last month raised questions about whether Fair, a consumer finance company, had the financial wherewithal to repay investors, who are owed about $200 million.

The investments paid substantially more than certificates of deposit, but unlike CDs they are not guaranteed by the government. The securities were sold only to Ohio residents, many of whom have only modest incomes.

Michael S. Welch, FBI special agent in charge in Indianapolis, said the search warrants executed Tuesday are sealed and that the FBI would not comment further.

IBJ’s story last month reported that since Durham, 47, bought 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 owe Fair more than $168 million.

Dennis Ginty, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Commerce, said Fair late last month filed papers seeking to register to sell additional investments certificates, but regulators told the company that it had to answer a series of questions before they would make a decision. Answers arrived today, Ginty said, and officials were beginning to go through them.

The whereabouts of Durham, 47, were not clear Tuesday. He did not respond to e-mail and voice mail messages from IBJ.

However, an attorney for the businessman told WTHR-TV in Indianapolis that Durham is cooperating with an investigation, the Associated Press reported Wednesday morning. Attorney John Tompkins said Durham is "convinced he has done nothing wrong."

Tompkins said Durham has been in Los Angeles on business for the past few months, but has been in contact with the FBI.

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