Tim Durham: Exclusive interview
Anne Marie Tiernon/Eyewitness News
West Hollywood, CA - Former Geist millionaire Tim Durham hasn't spoken publicly since an the FBI raided his downtown office on the top floor of Chase Tower nearly a year ago. After that raid and the bankruptcy that followed, more than 5,000 investors lost $200 million. Life savings were wiped out.
In an exclusive Eyewitness News interview at his home in California, Durham says he wants to set the record straight.
Durham says these days, he spends his time "mostly dealing with these issues of the fallout."
He's referring to the fallout of the November 24th, 2009 FBI raids executed simultaneously in Indianapolis and Akron, Ohio after the FBI conducted a two-hour interview with Durham, who was the head of Obsidian Enterprises and co-owner of Fair Finance.
Eyewitness News asked Durham what the FBI asked him in that interview.
"I can't be too specific but they were asking about Obsidian and Fair. I wasn't quite sure why, but they were," he said.
Eyewitness News: "Did you have any indication at the time that they left that was going to be the (raid) was imminent?"
"No, I had no idea," said Durham. "It certainly surprised me...I certainly didn't see it coming."
Eyewitness News: "What did that raid trigger?"
"It's hard to survive, for any company to survive this kind of negative publicity that arose over the raids and the subsequent media storm that happened. It would be virtually impossible for many companies to survive that and unfortunately several of ours didn't," he said, adding that "a lot of economic value has been lost."
Eyewitness News: "What did you lose?"
"I probably will have lost virtually my entire net worth," said Durham.
Nearly 5,000 Fair Finance investors lost an estimated $200 million when Fair Finance went belly up.
Eyewitness News: "What would you like to say to the people that lost their life savings in Fair Finance?"
"I feel terrible for them."
"Well, I fell terrible for them. I feel terrible for my mom and my dad and..the employees at Fair and the employees at Obsidian that had to shut down and all the investors in Ohio, you know. It's a terrible situation. It's just terrible," said Durham.
Durham says the seizure of company computers and records was followed by a notice from the US attorney of a civil forfeiture suit, which was dismissed in a matter of days. The probable cause remains sealed to this day.
Eyewitness News: "Do you think they will find a crime? Is there a crime here?"
"I certainly don't think there is a crime and haven't thought there was a crime since day one. We have always professed that we didn't do anything wrong or illegal. I'm confident we haven't committed any crimes," said Durham.
Eyewitness News: "Are you Indy's Bernie Madoff?"
"I don't think so - as I understand a Ponzi scheme and what Madoff did, he fabricated that he had investments and that his monies were virtually invested in real companies. which is not the case at all with us," Durham said.
"I think what we did was completely legitimate and entirely legal and I think that we were operating within the laws of the state and did everything to our knowledge that was entirely legal," said Durham.
Eyewitness News: "Did you do anything wrong?"
The FBI is not commenting on what they were looking for or what triggered the raid. To date there has been no indictment from the US attorney. The office says the investigation is ongoing.
"I emphatically believe they got it wrong, but there is a difference between saying they got it wrong and saying they intentionally got it wrong. I don't think they intentionally got it wrong. I definitely think they got it wrong but I don't think that it was an intentional act on their part," said Durham.
Durham says he moved to California two years ago to be near his son, who is starting his freshman year at USC, and to run National Lampoon, managing the rights and licensing of the comedy company. He lives in West Hollywood.
"It's a rental. I rented it months before the raid. I had an option to purchase it which obviously I don't think I am going to be able to do now," said Durham.
At times he rents out the home for commercials and TV shoots.
"It's helping pay for itself. It's not like spinning off excess money but it sure is helping pay the cost of the rent," he said. "I have to make it happen every month, you know get the bills paid and try to also come up with enough to pay legal fees as well."
Durham says he personally guaranteed some Fair Finance loans and to satisfy those obligations. He turned over his 30,000-square-foot Geist mansion now on the market for $5.5 million, his collection of nearly three-dozen exotic cars, including two Lamborghinis, and an art collection valued in the millions.
Eyewitness News: "If you could recreate your wealth would you spend your month the same way?"
Durham: "Probably not. No, probably not."
Now his biggest expense is his legal bills, which continue to grow by the day. Durham's attorney advised him against this interview and going into specifics how he ran businesses while the US attorney, SEC and FBI still have active cases.
Eyewitness News: "You think that at the end of the day you will be vindicated?"
Durham: "Absolutely everything we did we believed was legitimate and legal and so you know, I think eventually, hopefully that message will come out."
Eyewitness News: "You want to set the record straight?"
Durham: "Part of what we are going here today is my attempt at least to set part of that record straight anyway."
After being linked to Durham and Fair Finance, Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi decided to not seek re-election.
Durham says he's still friendly with Brizzi. "I talk to Carl, oh, maybe once a week, something like that. I mean, he's gone through his own personal issues and a lot of them related to the fact that he was my friend, which is unfortunate. But I think Carl is a great guy."
Eyewitness News: "Would you say your friendship with Carl really poisoned his political career?"
Durham: "I think it didn't help. The way I was portrayed in the media certainly hasn't helped his career and I think it did affect it and I feel badly for that for him."
Durham also says he did not leave Indianapolis after the FBI raid, as some people have said. "In actuality I left a year before. I came out here to take over National Lampoon."
"I am not running from Indiana, I am not running from a problem. I am here and I am living and dealing with the issues every day," he added.
Eyewitness News: "What do you see ahead what do you see happening next?"
Durham: "I don't really have any idea."
Eyewitness News: "Is your plan now to rebuild?"
Durham: "Right now it's difficult for me to think about how to rebuild."
Eyewitness News: "Why do you think there have been no charges? It's been one year."
Durham: "Well, I think you have to look back at why did you get raided in the first place? And we really don't know."
But Englishman Tim Porter believes otherwise.
Porter: "Tim Durham has said it enough times. I think he actually believes he has done nothing wrong."
Their relationship started over cars. Durham invested in Porter's The Great American Run and a souped-up Mustang business.
Tim Porter called Eyewitness News from England and talked about his involvement in the active investigation.
"I have talked to several of your authoritative bodies, one of which was the FBI," he said. Porter also says he contacted the FBI.
Porter says he lived at Durham's Geist mansion for nearly nine months, and now he freely shares about what he believes happened to the money, calling it a watered-down Ponzi scheme.
"The reason Tim Durham's company or companies have been brought down is because he has been doing something wrong," Porter said.
Eyewitness News: "What's he been doing wrong?"
Porter: "That is really for the FBI really to talk to you about. I can't get too involved in details but basically there is no smoke without fire."
Eyewitness News: "Who is Tim Porter and would he have access to information about what was going on in Obsidian Enterprises and Fair Finance?"
Durham: "Well, no. In a word, no. He was a partner of mine in a road rally and he ran
a car garage for me for a while and no, he wasn't involved in any of the other aspects of the company whatsoever."
Porter: "I think the reason he has not been charged is because this is so complex. He's an absolutely hopeless businessman...and now knowing what I know I wouldn't actually entrust him with my daughter's piggy bank."
Eyewitness News: "Is Tim Porter credible?"
Durham: "Well, that is for others to determine, I think."
Both men agree their business relationship went south over money.
Durham say's it's because he stopped funding Porter. Porter says he wanted his staff and a charity paid.
Both sides agree Porter wasn't leaving quietly.
Durham's attorney Gary Sallee was the intermediary.
"Tim Porter said that he was a jilted lover; that he would never go away and that if Tim Durham didn't give him money he would seek his revenge by telling everything that he knew or everything that he wanted told to anyone who would listen including the FBI or the SEC. Is that extortion if we look at extortion as being a threat to cause harm? If you don't pay me money it would seem to be extortion to me," said Sallee.
Porter claims he was not involved in extortion.
"Did I say I would contact authorities? No. My words were I will give him World War Three," said Porter.
Eyewitness News: "Had they given you what you asked for, would you have still talked with federal authorities?"
"Absolutely, if I was asked," said Porter.
Eyewitness News: "Would you have initiated the call?"
"Good question. Uh, yes," said Porter.
The fallout just gets worse for investors.
The Ohio trustee is trying to recoup money for the more than 5,000 people who lost $200 million in Fair Finance.
Art auction yields small totals
Durham's art collection, valued in the millions, sold at auction with bids totaling $400,000. But now the top two bidders are not paying. The auction house is suing and the art receipts to date are just $35,000.
Durham: "So if you are the trustee and you are trying to put the egg back together, so to speak, I think it is nearly an impossible task."
Eyewitness News: "Do you think this could end with you behind bars?"
Durham: "Oh, I can't see that scenario."
The FBI and the US attorney are still not commenting on the ongoing investigation.