WOOSTER: More than 1,000 people filled a college auditorium here Tuesday night trying to get answers to what has happened to millions of dollars they invested with Akron-based Fair Finance Co.
It wasn't clear if the people who attended the meeting in Fisher Auditorium on Ohio State University's agricultural campus left with more questions than answers about whether their money fell victim to a sophisticated Ponzi investment scheme that involves businesses and people in Ohio, Indiana and Texas.
The meeting was called by U.S. Rep. John Boccieri, D-Alliance, whose office has been pressuring federal and state investigators to find out what happened to nearly $200 million that Ohio residents paid Fair Finance. Boccieri repeated that he wants to see the assets of Fair Finance frozen until federal and state investigations are completed.
The FBI has many people investigating Fair Finance, Boccieri said.
Representatives of the FBI backed out of Tuesday's meeting at the last minute, saying they did not want to compromise their investigation, Boccieri said.
Beallsville resident Dale Henthorne said Fair Finance employees took two $25,000 certified checks from him in early November and deposited them into the firm's accounts without his permission. He said he never got investment certificates from those checks, and has more than $200,000 in the firm.
''They cashed them and took them,'' Henthorne said. ''They said they wouldn't cash those.''
He showed Boccieri copies of the checks given to Fair Finance. The congressman urged the 69-year-old retiree and widower to file formal complaints with authorities.
The money he paid Fair Finance ''pretty well cleaned me out,'' Henthorne said.
Boccieri said his staff has set up an e-mail in-box where holders of Fair Finance investment certificates can send messages with their stories. The e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Boccieri said he will personally deliver their stories to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and put them on his desk
''We want the company's assets and the co-owner's assets frozen until we know where the money is,'' Boccieri said. ''I implore you to give us your stories.''
An audience member asked if Fair Finance co-owners were selling off personal assets in Florida.
Boccieri said his office passed along those allegations to the FBI.
Harvey McCleskey, attorney inspector for the Ohio Division of Securities, said his office by statute cannot say if it is conducting an investigation.
Boccieri said he heard there were lawyers from Fair Finance in the audience.
''Are there any lawyers from Fair Finance here tonight? Stand up,'' Boccieri said as the audience laughed.
No one stood up.
''I thought so,'' Boccieri said.
The meeting was standing- room only. The auditorium seats about 1,000.
Audience members were largely middle-aged and elderly people, including members of Wayne County's Amish community.
Columbus attorney David Meyer, who filed a class-action lawsuit in Summit County against Fair Finance, said it is important for investment certificate holders to file complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission. He said he could not publicly say why that was important.
Waiting for response
Wooster lawyer Douglas Drushal said he expects some of Fair Finance's executives will be responding legally by the end of a week to a lawsuit he filed in December against the firm. The lawsuit has been joined by more than 200 people from the area who invested between $11 million and $12 million with the firm, he said.
''The big question is, where is the money?'' Drushal said to the crowd.
The meeting was intended to enable Fair Finance investors to question federal investigators, legal aid professionals and Ohio securities regulators.
Fair Finance said its investment certificates were backed by consumer loans. The certificates promised high rates of return and were not government insured.
The FBI raided Fair Finance's East Market Street headquarters and a related office in Indianapolis on Nov. 24, with court records showing investigators suspect the business was being operated as a Ponzi investment scheme.
The accounts receivables and consumer loan company has five offices in Boccieri's district that includes Wooster in Wayne County and also Canton, Medina, Wadsworth and Ashland.
The Fair family sold the business in 2002 to Indianapolis businessman Timothy Durham and partner James Cochran.
Fair Finance offices have been shuttered since the FBI raids.
No charges filed
No one has been arrested or charged in the investigation that started in Indiana. Fair Finance has said it is working to re-establish its accounts receivables business and also said it did not know when or if it will be able to resume selling and servicing investment certificates.
A second meeting this week about Fair's situation has been scheduled Thursday night. Green-based lawyer David Mucklow is sponsoring a meeting for Fair Finance investors that will explore the idea of whether to try to cause an involuntary bankruptcy of the company.
Mucklow said his free informational meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Green High School, 1474 Boettler Road, Green.
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or email@example.com.