ILNews

Trial evidence shows desperation in Fair Finance's final days

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

The men who presided over Fair Finance were at their wits end by late 2009.

In government-recorded phone calls and intercepted emails introduced as evidence in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis this week, they come across as exhausted, angry and determined.

Defense attorneys will argue that's because Tim Durham and co-defendants Jim Cochran and Rick Snow were working around the clock to save Fair from the recession, bad press and inquiries by skeptical regulators in Ohio, where the company was based.

But the prosecution's evidence suggests the defendants were desperate for another reason: They wanted to preserve their outsize lifestyles and prevent authorities from discovering how they had used cash from Fair investors to pay for cars, homes, parties and country club memberships.

By 2009, Fair co-owners Durham and Cochran had fallen behind on mortgages for their mansions, overdrawn their bank accounts, and missed payments on income and property taxes, their own emails show.

Credit card companies including American Express slashed their available credit lines, prompting Cochran to complain in one email he couldn't even afford a hotel when he visited Fair Finance headquarters in Akron, Ohio. His credit score had fallen to 510, he wrote.

Durham responded that his was probably lower. "I don't even want to look," he wrote on Sept. 8, 2009.

In another message, Cochran complained about having to sell his Corvette and live on only $10,000 for a period of 25 days.

"I don't have cash to go to McDonald's for my kids," he wrote.

The prosecution opened their fraud case this week with testimony from Fair employees and investors who lost a total of more than $200 million in what the government describes as a Ponzi scheme. Now prosecutors are trying to hang the defendants with their own words, introducing emails and playing wiretap recordings that detail the final days at Fair before an FBI raid on Nov. 24, 2009.

(MORE FROM IBJ - Durham prosecutors seek to admit '09 IBJ story as evidence)

Fair's leaders were trying desperately to win authorization from the state of Ohio to sell another $250 million in investment certificates and persuade concerned investors to stay the course. Some sought to cash out after Fair fell behind on interest payments and the investors learned most of the company's assets were tied up in related-party loans.

As its existing authorization to sell certificates wound down, Fair began taking cash deposits from investors while promising to issue investment certificates later, against the advice of its own counsel, the prosecution alleges. Fair employees were told to blame computer errors or state regulators for delayed payments. Fair's owners also allegedly discussed ways to dress up the firm's financials, including showing loans for businesses that already had closed to appease regulators.

Still, the executives felt confident the state of Ohio had no choice but to allow Fair to continue.

"If their [sic] gonna blow us up, we're gonna blow them up," Cochran vowed in a phone call with Durham on Nov. 13, 2009, according to a transcript provided by the prosecution. "I mean nobody wins and everybody loses, but we lose the worst. But at the end of the day, I mean, they gotta [expletive] put this thing on the street without a doubt. Fifty-four hundred investors aren't gonna ... [expletive] ... I mean it would be a catastrophic event in the State of Ohio. And I'm sure they don't want that kinda headline."

Durham and Cochran had relied on Fair for capitalization of both their businesses and lifestyles, FBI Special Agent Dennis Halliden said in testimony Wednesday. But the homes, cars and other fancy accoutrements did not provide nearly enough collateral to offset the loans they had taken from Fair.

Cutting back

During a brief respite in Fair's ongoing cash-flow crisis, Cochran confronted Durham about his lavish spending and failure to heed the "signs of a poor economy."

In a July 14, 2009, email, he questioned Durham's decisions to spend $12,000 for two nights in a condo for New Year's Eve and for throwing lavish parties in Las Vegas and on a rented yacht.

"These costs are ultimately paid by Fair upstream of funds .. .assigned to Obsidian [Enterprises, Durham's buyout fund] and never paid back," Cochran wrote. "With the reprieve of funds this week, you should work on clearing the garage of cars, because these funds won't last and we'll be back to the strugglin position."

Cochran suggested the companies start a round of layoffs and asked Durham to consult him on every bill that got paid. He also asked for $104,000 to pay property taxes, $71,000 for unpaid income taxes and $193,000 for hurricane windows for a home in Naples, Fla.

Durham agreed they needed to cut back, and said he had "flushed in" about $5 million over the previous 18 months by selling two antique Duesenberg cars and other assets he had bought with his own cash but later "secured to defaulted Fair money."

"So if I spent 4K on a weekend boat trip or got comped on a vegas trip, then I don't feel bad about it," Durham wrote. (You can read this entire exchange here. Warning: There's some profanity.)

The partners agreed to put aside their differences in an attempt to keep Fair in business; Cochran's mission was to "save" investors who had requested to withdraw their funds from Fair.

"Go baby go," Durham cheered Cochran in an email after Cochran persuaded an investor with $98,000 in Fair to cancel a cash-out request.

Getting creative

In a phone call on Nov. 9, 2009, Cochran and Durham complained that Fair's employees weren't smart enough to say the right things to hold onto investors concerned about late interest payments.

"It's like [expletive] Larry, Curley and Moe over there," Cochran said, according to a transcript.

But the partners decided they couldn't "address" the situation by firing or reassigning anyone.

"These guys know a little bit too much," Cochran said. "They can take it ... bust us."

"No. We can't," Durham agreed. "We've got to get through this."

A few days later, on Nov. 13, 2009, Durham called with an idea to make some of Fair's bad debt disappear by distributing the debts to the partners.

"This is the answer," Durham said. "I mean, it's just basically we make twenty-five, twenty-eight million dollars in loans just vanish."

"Halle-[expletive]-lujah," Cochran said.

"Yep. Yep," Durham answered.

"[Expletive] brilliant," finished Cochran.

In another call, between Durham and Chief Financial Officer Snow, Durham suggested he could resign as chairman of a subsidiary company to which Fair had loaned millions. At that point, Durham said, the loan balance would no longer have to be classified as "related-party," allaying some concern among investors.

"I don't know what the related party rules are but that makes sense," Snow answered.

Setting priorities

Durham and Cochran were feuding as early as 2005 over how to use Fair to restructure their struggling business empire, emails show. Cash flows from Fair would rise and fall depending on how willing Ohioans were willing to invest at a given time.

In a March 2005 note, Cochran complained that millions of dollars in loans to Durham-led firms Obsidian and DC Investments put Fair in a "poor position." But his primary concern was not Fair investors.

"Through the years, you have to agree, there has been no benefit in it for me. I am in all this debt that has no benefit to me," he wrote, before ending with: "Tim, it's time for me to look out for me ... because no one else will."

Cochran wrote in a September 2008 email exchange with Durham that his assets including homes weren't enough to offset the loans he had received from Fair (about $8 million), which would pose trouble in a potential audit.

He said Obsidian couldn't afford to pay its employees without money from Fair. He also noted loans of $14 million "we'll never recover" from Fair investors to Obsidian subsidiaries including Danzer Industries, Speedster Motor Cars and Champion Trailer.

But he wasn't writing Durham to discuss how to handle the loans or account for them with Fair. He was asking for a raise.

"It is really time for me to bring in $1 million per year," Cochran wrote. "In retrospect, it is time for this type compensation ... as strange as that seems from me. With the new fundings, it will easily support this comp. package."

At the time, his pay was $8,365 per week, or about $435,000 per year.

One month later, Cochran asked for another $22,000 from Fair to pay his taxes to the IRS, and $43,000 to pay the fourth installment of his $175,000 initiation fee at Grey Oaks Country Club in Naples. Fair had paid the other installments, too.

"This is full equity and I am assigning the full equity amount to (Fair)," he wrote.

Boom and bust

By December 2008, Durham and Cochran were trying to sell homes and cars to raise cash, sublease Obsidian's office space on the 48th floor of Chase Tower, and sell off National Lampoon Inc. They also discussed ways to collect on loans to friends and family members (most of whom had never made a single payment). In early 2009, Durham suggested they take themselves off the payroll, taking loans from Fair instead, to minimize payroll taxes.

"My credit report will go real bad ... altho, saving a company is more important," Cochran wrote on Dec. 31, 2008, after discovering he had not received money from Fair to pay a mortage payment on his home in Naples.

The finances had turned around a bit by early 2009, in part because Fair instituted a 60-day hold for investors wanting to cash out their certificates. The move "generated" $1 million in "additional cash," Durham wrote.

On the afternoon of May 4, 2009, with a subject of "$$$$$$$$," Cochran told Durham in an email he was "running on fumes" and needed some "moolah."

About an hour later, Durham authorized a transfer of $10,000 from Fair to Cochran.

Cochran responded that he still had his mortgages to pay.

The following month, Cochran asked for $16,000 for "May mortgages," $20,000 for "Corvette payment to Susan's sister," $5,475 for "cement coping of pool," $2,200 for "landscapers (3) of the homes," and $10,000 for "normal bills."

This story originally ran in the June 14, 2012, IBJ Daily. The Indianapolis Business Journal is a sister publication of Indiana Lawyer.

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I'm going to court the beginning of Oct. 2015 to establish visitation and request my daughters visits while she is in jail. I raised my grandchild for the first two and half years. She was born out of wedlock and the father and his adopted mother wantwd her aborted, they went as far as sueing my daughter for abortion money back 5mo. After my grandchild was born. Now because of depression and drug abuse my daughter lost custody 2 and a half years ago. Everyting went wrong in court when i went for custody my lawyer was thrown out and a replacment could only stay 45 min. The judge would not allow a postponement. So the father won. Now he is aleinating me and my daughter. No matter the amount of time spent getting help for my daughter and her doing better he runs her in the ground to the point of suicide because he wants her to be in a relationship with him. It is a sick game of using my grandchild as a pawn to make my daughter suffer for not wanting to be with him. I became the intervener in the case when my daughter first got into trouble. Because of this they gave me her visitation. Im hoping to get it again there is questions of abuse on his part and I want to make sure my grandchild is doing alright. I really dont understand how the parents have rights to walk in and do whatever they want when the refuse to stand up and raise the child at first . Why should it take two and a half years to decide you want to raise your child.The father used me so he could finish college get a job and stop paying support by getting custody. Support he was paying my daughter that I never saw.

  2. Pence said when he ordered the investigation that Indiana residents should be troubled by the allegations after the video went viral. Planned Parenthood has asked the government s top health scientists at the National Institutes of Health to convene a panel of independent experts to study the issues surrounding the little-known branch of medicine.

  3. State Farm is sad and filled with woe Edward Rust is no longer CEO He had knowledge, but wasn’t in the know The Board said it was time for him to go All American Girl starred Margaret Cho The Miami Heat coach is nicknamed Spo I hate to paddle but don’t like to row Edward Rust is no longer CEO The Board said it was time for him to go The word souffler is French for blow I love the rain but dislike the snow Ten tosses for a nickel or a penny a throw State Farm is sad and filled with woe Edward Rust is no longer CEO Bambi’s mom was a fawn who became a doe You can’t line up if you don’t get in a row My car isn’t running, “Give me a tow” He had knowledge but wasn’t in the know The Board said it was time for him to go Plant a seed and water it to make it grow Phases of the tide are ebb and flow If you head isn’t hairy you don’t have a fro You can buff your bald head to make it glow State Farm is sad and filled with woe Edward Rust is no longer CEO I like Mike Tyson more than Riddick Bowe A mug of coffee is a cup of joe Call me brother, don’t call me bro When I sing scat I sound like Al Jarreau State Farm is sad and filled with woe The Board said it was time for him to go A former Tigers pitcher was Lerrin LaGrow Ursula Andress was a Bond girl in Dr. No Brian Benben is married to Madeline Stowe Betsy Ross couldn’t knit but she sure could sew He had knowledge but wasn’t in the know Edward Rust is no longer CEO Grand Funk toured with David Allan Coe I said to Shoeless Joe, “Say it ain’t so” Brandon Lee died during the filming of The Crow In 1992 I didn’t vote for Ross Perot State Farm is sad and filled with woe The Board said it was time for him to go A hare is fast and a tortoise is slow The overhead compartment is for luggage to stow Beware from above but look out below I’m gaining momentum, I’ve got big mo He had knowledge but wasn’t in the know Edward Rust is no longer CEO I’ve travelled far but have miles to go My insurance company thinks I’m their ho I’m not their friend but I am their foe Robin Hood had arrows, a quiver and a bow State Farm has a lame duck CEO He had knowledge, but wasn’t in the know The Board said it was time for him to go State Farm is sad and filled with woe

  4. The ADA acts as a tax upon all for the benefit of a few. And, most importantly, the many have no individual say in whether they pay the tax. Those with handicaps suffered in military service should get a pass, but those who are handicapped by accident or birth do NOT deserve that pass. The drivel about "equal access" is spurious because the handicapped HAVE equal access, they just can't effectively use it. That is their problem, not society's. The burden to remediate should be that of those who seek the benefit of some social, constructional, or dimensional change, NOT society generally. Everybody wants to socialize the costs and concentrate the benefits of government intrusion so that they benefit and largely avoid the costs. This simply maintains the constant push to the slop trough, and explains, in part, why the nation is 20 trillion dollars in the hole.

  5. Hey 2 psychs is never enough, since it is statistically unlikely that three will ever agree on anything! New study admits this pseudo science is about as scientifically valid as astrology ... done by via fortune cookie ....John Ioannidis, professor of health research and policy at Stanford University, said the study was impressive and that its results had been eagerly awaited by the scientific community. “Sadly, the picture it paints - a 64% failure rate even among papers published in the best journals in the field - is not very nice about the current status of psychological science in general, and for fields like social psychology it is just devastating,” he said. http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/aug/27/study-delivers-bleak-verdict-on-validity-of-psychology-experiment-results

ADVERTISEMENT