Fair Finance trustee renews call for return of political donations

The trustee in the Fair Finance bankruptcy has renewed a call for recipients of political contributions from accused Ponzi schemer Tim Durham to return the tainted cash after a federal grand jury indicted Durham on 12 felony counts.

In a statement, Trustee Brian A. Bash thanked Indiana Sen. Mike Delph for doing "the right thing" and returning $10,000, and implored fellow elected officials including Gov. Mitch Daniels and former Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi to follow suit. Daniels and Brizzi each received about $200,000 from Durham.

Bash expressed disappointment at hearing, through the media, that some of the recipients of Durham's campaign donations—including Daniels—had no plans to return the money since it was already spent.

"Such a glib response is not a defense, and it trivializes the losses suffered by the victims," Bash wrote. "We understand that the campaigns did not plan to have to return these contributions, but the victims also did not plan to be cheated."

The statement said Daniels at least responded to the trustee's request, unlike most others, and the trustee hopes "for mutual resolution through continued discussions." A spokeswoman for Daniels did not return a phone message or e-mail Monday morning.

Brizzi had not yet seen the trustee's statement when reached by email Monday. He asked what year Durham acquired Fair Finance. In response to the answer, 2002, Brizzi wrote: "I will give this further thought."

Brizzi was first elected prosecutor in 2002 and re-elected in 2006.

The trustee noted he would prefer to recover money from politicians "amicably," but would not hesitate to take legal action if necessary. He singled out Daniels, Brizzi, Lawrence Mayor Paul Ricketts, the Indiana Republican State Committee and the Greater Indianapolis Republican Finance Committee.

Marion County Republican Party Chairman Kyle Walker expressed sympathy for the victims of Fair Finance but said that Durham's roughly $50,000 in contributions to the local party have "long since been spent in good faith."

"All funds now available have been contributed by donors who wished them to be spent for the sole purpose of electing current and future candidates," Walker wrote in an email. "I feel it would be a violation of my ethical and fiduciary responsibility to those donors to spend their funds in any other manner—no matter how worthy the cause."

Besides Delph, at least one other Republican has returned Durham money. Former Republican candidate for Marion County sheriff Tim Motsinger returned all financial contributions and loans that his campaign got from Durham, who served as his campaign finance manager. He said the loss of funds made him unable to compete and withdrew from that race.

Most of Durham's political contributions went to Republicans, but former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson collected $2,000 and former U.S. Rep. Baron Hill received $5,000. Both are Democrats. Adam Kirsch, executive director of the Marion County Democratic Party, said he did not know whether they had returned the contributions.

Durham and two business partners, James Cochran and Rick Snow, were arrested March 16 after being indicted on 12 felony counts, including conspiracy to commit wire and securities fraud. They're accused of defrauding about 5,000 investors in Akron, Ohio-based Fair Finance Co. of more than $200 million.

Full coverage of the Durham case can be found here.

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