INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - The collapse of Tim Durham's Fair Finance left 5,400 parties $216 million in the hole. Those who lost out were Ohioans; many elderly, some Amish, and the implosion may lead to a new law.
"After being approached by a constituent who nearly got burned by the Fair Finance collapse, we dug into the issue and found out that hundreds of people... were taken advantage of... I will not stand by and turn a blind eye to companies stealing from innocent investors," said Ohio State Representative Todd Snitchler.
"Ohio's law made it easy," Snitchler said, so he's introduced Bill 550.
But it's too little, too late for the thousands who lost their life savings — people like investor Don Russell.
"A year later, there's still no party that has an interest in the victims… and it's heartbreaking," Russell said.
Russell, a retired cop, lost $475,000 in family money in the collapse, including his mother's. She died within a month of the FBI raid on Durham's business. That was the same day she found out she'd lost money.
"He trashed the company. He thoroughly destroyed it," said Donald Fair, who sold the company to Durham in 2001.
His biggest question for the State of Ohio is about oversight.
"Why was not an audited statement provided by Durham?" Fair asked.
While Fair ran the company — dating back to 1934 — he supplied the Ohio Division of Securities with an audited statement annually. However, that's not required by current Ohio law. And Durham didn't supply audited statements in latter years. Victims' lawyers now believe an audit, or separate set of eyes vouching for the numbers, could have mitigated the losses.
"This was a scheme, an elaborate scheme," says Tim Pettorini, a Wooster, Ohio lawyer representing more than 200 victims who lost more than $10 million dollars.
"We don't think it begins and ends with Tim Durham," said Pettorini.
He says former partner Jim Cochran, former board member Carl Brizzi and others are named in lawsuits seeking restitution. Brizzi, who will soon leave his post as Marion County prosecutor, said serving on the Fair Finance Board was his "greatest mistake."
"We do believe Ohio is fertile ground for this to happen," said Pettorini.
The legislation (HB 550) to require audited statements for public securities would remove the loophole. A 50-state review done by Ohio lawmakers found that Ohio ranked near the bottom when it came to protecting consumers. On the other end, their report finds that Indiana ranks near the top.
The rule change comes too late.
"I was told by the FBI that he would go to jail… but…" said Don Russell.
The retired officer says he was hopeful justice would be swift after being interviewed by the FBI over the winter. On the day he spoke to 24-Hour News 8 he sat defeated, alone in his Doylestown, Ohio home. His wife was forced to return to work after their life savings were lost. His mother died within a month of the raid. His two sons are now married and both are expecting.
"How could you victimize five generations of one family?" Russell asks.
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