A federal judge in Ohio on Tuesday rejected a motion filed by IBJ and other newspapers seeking to unseal search warrant documents related to the federal criminal investigation of Indianapolis businessman Tim Durham and Akron-based Fair Finance Co.
IBJ, The Wall Street Journal, The Akron Beacon Journal and The Indianapolis Star late last year launched the court battle to unseal the documents. They argued that making them public would provide “transparency” to Fair’s investors and was justified under the First Amendment and common law.
But in a nine-page opinion, Judge Sara Lioi of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio ruled the right of access to search warrant records connected with an ongoing investigation is “not absolute” and was not justified in this case.
“In view of the fact that the government’s investigation is ongoing, unsealing the relevant records, especially the detailed affidavit in support of the search warrant … would reveal a virtual ‘road map’ of the government’s investigation, investigative techniques and the information derived therefrom, the identities of sources and potential targets of the investigation, and an impression (possibly mistaken) concerning who may or may not be cooperating with the government,” she wrote.
The probe has been public since Nov. 24, when FBI agents executed search warrants at Durham’s Indianapolis office and at Fair’s headquarters. Agents hauled away computer equipment and bankers boxes full of documents. Fair never reopened after the raid, and now is in bankruptcy liquidation.
Court papers filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Indianapolis on Nov. 24 allege Fair operated as 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 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 had purchased more than $200 million in unsecured investment certificates.
The story reported that, since Durham bought the consumer-loan business in 2002, he had used it almost like a personal bank to fund a range of business interests, many of them unsuccessful. The story noted that he and related parties owe Fair more than $168 million.