Fair Finance investors likely to recover little money

March 17, 2011

Investors in the bankrupt Fair Finance Co. are likely to recoup just a small amount of the money they lost despite the indictment Wednesday of Timothy S. Durham and two other executives tied to the firm.

A 23-page grand jury indictment alleges that Durham, 48, and business partner James F. Cochran, 55, worked with former Fair Chief Financial Officer Rick D. Snow, 47, to devise and execute a scheme to defraud investors in the Akron, Ohio-based company.

Altogether, authorities say Fair Finance owes 5,200 Ohio investors $230 million. Officials called it the largest corporate fraud case in Indiana history.

But unfortunately, investors subjected to fraud often receive mere pennies for every dollar invested, said Brad Skolnik, a securities lawyer and former state securities commissioner.

“Although Mr. Durham appeared to have a significant amount of wealth and they were able to sell his assets, the amounts recovered represent a tiny fraction of the massive amounts that were lost by investors in connection to this alleged fraud,” Skolnik said.

Indeed, bankruptcy trustee Brian Bash and his fellow attorneys at Baker & Hostetler in Cleveland only recovered about $1.4 million through the sale of Durham’s elaborate automobile and art collection.

In January, the Durham vehicles collectively fetched about $2.2 million, likely leaving about $1 million for the trustee after expenses and a bank lien are paid off, said Kelly Burgan, an attorney for Bash.

Durham’s Geist mansion, which fell into foreclosure in September, will not provide any funds for investors.

The trustee had hoped to use proceeds from the sale of the 10,700-square-foot home to repay some of the more than $200 million owed to investors. But the disclosure of the $3.5 million mortgage, which JPMorgan Chase assumed in 2008 when it took over the failed Washington Mutual Bank, suggests there is little or no equity in the home.

“That’s the frustration we face,” Burgan said. “[Their wealth was] squandered on things we can’t recover, like trips and gambling.”

According to the indictment, the men spent lavishly. Durham, for example, wired $250,000 in Fair money in 2007 to remodel his garage. He wired another $150,000 the following year to use at a casino. In addition, Cochran wired $50,000, also in 2008, to pay country club fees.

The trustee now is pursuing others who received loans from Fair Finance.

Attorneys early on sued Carmel businessman Dan Laikin, a former director of Akron, Ohio-based Fair, alleging he was among the largest recipients of the insider loans that “utterly looted” the business.

The suit says Laikin owes more than $19 million. And while the trustee may win, collecting on the debt is another matter. Laikin, former CEO of Los Angeles-based National Lampoon Inc., isn’t the ideal defendant. He lost millions when that company cratered, and right now he’s serving a 45-month prison sentence for trying to manipulate Lampoon’s stock price.

Burgan said the trustee has had some success in discussing settlements with at least one target of the lawsuits.

“It’s difficult, if not impossible, to predict what recoveries will be,” said Burgan, acknowledging it likely will be a “teeny-tiny fraction” of the $230 million.

Durham, Cochran and Snow all were arrested Wednesday at their homes—Durham in Los Angeles and Cochran and Snow in Indianapolis.

Cochran and Snow have been released on their own recognizance following a Wednesday initial hearing in Indianapolis before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kennard Foster.

Durham, meanwhile, was awaiting his initial hearing in Los Angeles on Thursday morning. All three men face felony charges of 10 counts of wire fraud, one count of securities fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and securities fraud.

Each faces a maximum of five years in prison for the conspiracy count, 20 years in prison for each wire fraud count and 20 years in prison for the securities fraud count. In addition, each could be fined $250,000 for each count upon which they are convicted.


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