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Jury convicts Ind. financier in $200M fraud scheme

Thursday - 6/21/2012, 2:11am  ET

By KEN KUSMER
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - An Indianapolis businessman accused of looting an Ohio-based finance company after buying it and bilking about 5,000 mostly elderly investors out of more than $200 million was convicted Wednesday on all counts.

A federal jury found Tim Durham guilty of securities fraud, conspiracy and 10 counts of wire fraud. His business partners, James F. Cochran and accountant Rick D. Snow, also were convicted of conspiracy and securities fraud, and some wire fraud counts. When sentenced, the men could face decades in prison.

Durham's defense attorney had argued that the men simply made bad business decisions in the midst of the bewildering economic crisis of 2008. But prosecutors alleged that Durham and his partners pillaged Fair Finance to enrich themselves and their friends _ buying classic cars, houses and casino trips _ and to help Durham's other struggling businesses.

The three men were taken out of the courtroom in handcuffs and will be held in jail pending a hearing Monday in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis. Jurors began deliberations Wednesday morning after the judge denied a request from Durham's attorney for a mistrial.

Outside the courthouse, U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett said the verdicts were "a powerful warning that if you sacrifice truth in the name of greed, if you steal from another's effort to carve out the American dream to enhance your own, you will be caught."

Hogsett said he hoped the jury's decision would bring some measure of justice to "the thousands of hardworking people whose financial wellbeing was destroyed at the hands of these men."

Durham's attorney, John Tompkins, said in an email Tuesday evening that his client plans to appeal. Durham maintains that he has done nothing wrong, and "the Durham family stands by Tim and continues to believe in his innocence," Tompkins wrote.

Phone messages seeking comment were left for Cochran's and Snow's attorneys.

Prosecutors claimed that after buying Akron, Ohio-based Fair Finance in 2002, Durham and his partners stripped it of its assets and tapped it to buy luxury items. The men also were accused of funneling funds from Fair Finance to Durham's Indianapolis-based holding company, Obsidian Enterprises, to keep its failing subsidiaries intact.

Prosecutors claimed the men operated an elaborate Ponzi scheme to hide Fair Finance's depleted condition from investors and regulators until the FBI raided Durham's office in November 2009. By then, the consumer finance company founded in 1934 was $200 million in debt.

Tompkins had argued that Durham and the others were caught off-guard by the economic crisis of 2008, and bewildered when regulators placed them under more strict scrutiny and investors made a run on the company.

Tompkins said the evidence didn't support the accusation of fraud because Durham stood to lose money if Fair Finance went under, claiming that Durham had sunk millions of dollars of his own money into Obsidian to keep it afloat.

All three men were found guilty on one count of conspiracy and one count of securities fraud. Each also faced 10 counts of wire fraud; Cochran was convicted on six of those counts and Snow on three.

Each of the wire fraud and securities fraud counts carries up to 20 years in prison, while the conspiracy charge carries up to a five-year prison sentence.

A federal grand jury in Indianapolis indicted Durham, Cochran and Snow in March 2010. The allegations against Durham _ a major Indiana Republican Party donor _ led several GOP politicians, including Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, to return hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions sought by Fair Finance's bankruptcy trustee.

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Associated Press reporter Charles Wilson contributed to this report from Indianapolis.


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