Durham sentence stands

Indianapolis Business Journal

Convicted Ponzi scheme leader Tim Durham failed Friday in his bid to get his 50-year prison sentence reduced.

Durham, who grew up in Seymour, appeared in federal court in Indianapolis for a resentencing hearing following the September dismissal of two felony counts of wire fraud by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The appeals court threw out two of 12 counts because prosecutors in those instances failed to enter key documents into the record.

Even so, Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson told Durham, dressed in a white T-shirt, tan prison pants and blue canvas loafers, that the dismissals aren’t enough to reduce the court’s 50-year sentence based on the severity of his crimes.

Prosecutors had sought a 225-year sentence for the Indianapolis businessman, who was found guilty in June 2012 of looting Akron, Ohio-based Fair Finance Co. to prop up failing businesses and support his lavish lifestyle. Fair’s 5,200 investors — mom-and-pop Ohioans who bought unsecured certificates — lost more than $200 million when the company shut down in November 2009.

The two dismissals only slightly change the math, reducing the calculation under federal sentencing guidelines from 225 years to 185 years. But Durham’s sentence fell below the guideline range anyway, Magnus-Stinson reasoned.

Durham’s court-appointed lawyer, Kenneth Riggins, sought a sentence similar to what Fair Finance co-owner Jim Cochran received for his role in the scheme. He was convicted on eight of 12 felony fraud counts and received 25 years. Fair Chief Financial Officer Rick Snow, convicted on five of 12 counts, got 10 years.

Magnus-Stinson rejected Durham’s argument.

“It was very clear, Mr. Durham, that you were the boss and Mr. Cochran worked for you,” she said.

The judge, however, did applaud Durham for teaching mathematics and personal finance courses to fellow inmates to help them obtain high school equivalency diplomas.

Durham is serving his time at the McCreary U.S. Penitentiary in Pine Knot, Kentucky.

Following the judge’s resentencing decision, Durham asked the court to file a notice of appeal on his behalf.

Settlement reached

The setback for Durham is not the only news related to his conviction.

In May, Fair Finance Co.’s bankruptcy trustee announced a $35 million settlement had been reached with a New York financial firm, paving the way for Durham’s victims to finally recoup some of their $205 million in losses.

Trustee Brian Bash had accused Fortress Credit Corp. of turning a blind eye to Durham’s scheme because it was making millions of dollars as its lender and held first liens on the only company assets with real value.

The $35 million recovery, which requires bankruptcy court approval, is the largest Bash has secured since filing dozens of lawsuits over the past five years aimed at shrinking the losses of the Ohio investors who funded Durham’s scheme by buying high-yield Fair Finance investment certificates. The legal onslaught has yielded millions in fees, but the investors have yet to receive anything.