The letters, some typed but most handwritten, tell heart-breaking stories.
They are outcries of despair. Sadness. Guilt. Frustration. Bewilderment. And anger — lots of anger.
More than 1,000 Ohio people victimized in the $200 million Fair Finance Co. fraud scandal wrote to prosecutors to say how they were impacted following FBI raids on the company’s Akron headquarters and other offices in 2009. Many of the people are elderly. Many said they lost all the money they had after investing it under Fair’s Indianapolis-based business owners.
“I am a 83 year old pushed to poverty from ‘Fair Finance’ stealing my life savings,” wrote one woman from Akron. She said she invested more than $100,000 inherited from her late husband in Fair’s uninsured investment certificates. “I have a disabled daughter (veteran) I was helping now I can’t help anyone. I have to ask my son and brother to help pay my bills. I am ill from stress.”
Another Akron woman said she hoped the three men found guilty would get the maximum prison sentences allowed.
“The money I saved and invested at Fair Finance was earned by physical labor. I worked 55-60 hours per week to have money to save,” she wrote. “They’ve ruined lives.”
The letters were written in response to requests by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Indianapolis where the case was prosecuted. The office’s victim services staff contacted the estimated 5,300 Fair Finance victims, all in Ohio, as part of the criminal fraud case. Indianapolis businessmen Timothy Durham and James Cochran, who bought Fair Finance in 2002 from the Fair family, along with former company executive Rick Snow, were found guilty of numerous charges in 2012.
The U.S. Attorney’s office asked for victim impact statements to give to the court for consideration in prison sentencing.
“In particular, it would be helpful if you could explain whether this crime substantially endangered your financial security,” the victim services letter said in part.
Statements read in court
During the sentencing hearings on Nov. 30, U.S. District Court Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson, who oversaw the criminal trial, said she read each of the 1,035 letters that were sent in.
The letters, minus some personal information, recently were made public. The Beacon Journal decided not to use the names of those who wrote the letters because of their sensitive nature.
Durham and Cochran were accused of using Fair Finance funds to spend on lavish lifestyles at the expense of the thousands of people who for years had loaned money to Fair Finance by buying investment certificates. The company, founded in the 1930s, used the loans to buy and manage accounts receivables from other businesses and paid higher-than-bank-rate interest on its certificates.
Until FBI raids the day before Thanksgiving in 2009 shuttered Fair Finance for good, it had never missed a payment. Fair Finance is now in bankruptcy; no money recovered to date has been distributed to the certificate holders.
Durham, a politically connected business executive in Indianapolis and considered the mastermind of the fraud scheme, was given a 50-year prison term, which Magnus-Stinson said was effectively a life sentence for the 50-year-old man.
Cochran, 57, received 25 years while Snow, 49, was given a 10-year sentence. All three have since appealed.
Durham, who collected expensive cars and art, had a yacht, leased a jet, owned a mansion and more than once said he wanted to be the richest man in America, has since declared he is destitute. Many of the people who wrote statements also said they were out of money.
Retired farmers hurt
Some letters are lengthy, others short and to the point.
“We are both retired dairy farmers,” one couple from Wayne County wrote. “If you don’t think losing $190,000 is important to us, try milking cows ‘24-7’ for decades until those savings for your retirement years are stolen by crafty lawyers … all without feeling devastated!”
A Stark County woman wrote to say that her elderly sister, who is in a nursing home, had lost her life savings and had to have her care taken over by Medicaid. The woman’s letter said her sister’s money invested with Fair Finance could have paid for more than three years of nursing home care.
“I did not share with her the financial loss she had sustained through investment with Fair Finance,” she wrote. “She just assumed her money had all been used for her [nursing] care.”
A Wadsworth man wrote in part that he wished he could have 15 minutes with the three men to let them know how he feels.
“I figure my money paid for a few days worth of gas for his fricking yacht. My mother and son paid for the Playboy bunny,” he wrote, referring to reports of Durham’s lifestyle. “Screw them and their family and friends!!! (Sorry, I tried to keep it modest.)”
One woman said she is a widow who had invested $106,000 in savings with Fair Finance.
“The money I had invested with Fair Finance was money I had to live on,” she wrote. “I always thought they were a good company and I needed the money to make ends meet. … I was very happy with them, my checks came on time and they paid me more than the bank did. … My husband and I had worked and saved for our old age so we could enjoy our old age and not be a burden to our children. … This is how I cope — I drive a 12 year old car, I go to Damage Freight & buy groceries. I go to Goodwill and buy my clothes. I raise a big garden & can and freeze vegetables. I pray a lot. I’m 85 years old and have survived cancer twice.”
A man from Stow questioned whether his letter will make a difference.
“It will not get my money back and it sure won’t give me closure,” he wrote. “It just opens up deep wounds and really pisses me off. … I guess my wife and I are lucky and lost $17,500 (robbed) compared to other people’s losses. We will be lucky if we get $50.00 back.”
He also directly addressed Durham, Cochran and Snow: “(You’re) a bunch of heartless bastards who would screw anybody just so you can live the life style of rich people. I hope you get put in a prison of hardened criminals …”
Many letter writers said that they now have to rely on Social Security to get by.
“I’m a 67 year old disabled female and no longer able to work,” started one letter from a Barberton resident. “I worked 35 years to save for my old age. I’m forced to live off my Social Security and often don’t have enough money for my medications or emergencies. I worked 12 hour shifts as a nurse and served the public. I was always an able hard worker. I’ve never been on public assistance (welfare) or food stamps. I now face that possibility. I now feel helpless, poor, depleted and depressed and worry about my future. Fair Finance took away my feeling of independence.”
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or email@example.com.