The feds certainly sent a message by parking on Monument Circle in that huge white van with the words and seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on the sides.
The November 24 afternoon raid on the Monument Circle/Chase Tower top floor offices of Tim Durham, Indianapolis multi-millionaire entrepreneur, playboy and moneyed sugar daddy to mostly Republican politicians, captured everyone’s attention.
The blood pressure of the denizens of the next door Columbia Club shot up several points, along with the heart rates of politicos, corporate lawyers and political fixers in Indianapolis as scores of FBI agents poured through the Chase Tower’s front doors, up to Durham’s lavish office.
The G-men and women carted out to the Circle enough boxes of documents to fill a fair sized Wal-Mart, while the U.S. Attorney filed documents in Federal Court demanding forfeiture of Durham’s homes, bank accounts, even a fancy car, because of an alleged wire fraud fueled Ponzi scheme.
Tim Durham is a high flyer whose Obsidian Enterprises owns a score of businesses from the National Lampoon humor franchise to an Ohio-based financial firm, Fair Financial, that’s the center of the fed’s investigation.
Durham’s lavish lifestyle would’ve made Robin Leach blush. His huge Geist mansion is accompanied by a home just off the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, a huge yacht and other boy toys. Durham gives lavish parties, some reminiscent of a Roman bacchanal or the Playboy Mansion.
But besides living large, Durham likes to be surrounded by flashy women and Indiana politicians. He’s given the politicians tens of thousands over the years. Nearly $300,000 to Mitch Daniels. Nearly $200,000 to Carl Brizzi.
He was finance chair for GOP 2010 sheriff candidate Tim Motsinger, who dropped out of the race barely six hours after the FBI raid and the fed’s civil suit; because of Motsinger’s Durham relationship.
Now Carl Brizzi’s relationship with Durham could be the critical issue in the 2010 Prosecutor’s race; if Brizzi runs for re-election.
The problems of Durham and his dealings with Fair Financial first came to light in an Indianapolis Business Journal (IBJ) article October 24, which charged that Durham operated Fair Financial “like a personal bank.”
After the FBI raid, the real bombshell was when IBJ and the Indianapolis Star revealed that Carl Brizzi had been named to the board of Fair Financial. The stories forced Brizzi into contradictory statements.
Nearly 24 hours after the FBI raid, just before noon November 25, Brizzi’s official Prosecutor’s Office spokesman issued this statement.
“Tim is a friend, and I’m sorry to hear about the recent developments. I have no knowledge of the allegations, and it would be inappropriate for me to comment.”
Then after the Star said online that Brizzi was a Fair Financial board member, IBJ said online that Brizzi admitted to them, the morning of the raid that he had been a board member, but told Durham he wanted off after hearing of IBJ’s October story. So, Brizzi changed his tune by 4 p.m. saying…
“Mr. Durham recently asked me to serve on the board of one of his companies, Fair Financial. While I initially accepted the position, I never attended a meeting of the board, never voted as a board member, was never involved in any of the business decisions of Fair Financial, and was never compensated as a member of the board. Upon reading the October IBJ article and uncertain whether I had yet formally taken a position on the board, I indicated to Mr. Durham that I was no longer interested in serving on the board.”
IBJ posted online an official circular from Fair Financial. This is a document for potential investors. In it, as required by law, Fair Financial lists their board members and officers. The circular stated “Carl Brizzi was elected director in 2009.”
Carl Brizzi’s friendship with the high-living, high-flying Durham has raised plenty of eyebrows in the past, as has Durham’s extreme generosity to Brizzi’s campaigns. But friendship, per se, while questionable, isn’t illegal or unethical.
But what does cross the line was Brizzi’s secret decision to join the Fair Financial board.
As a general practice, elected officials do not serve on for-profit corporate boards. Non-profit boards like United Way or an arts group, yes. Boards like Lilly, Wellpoint, or Fair Financial, no.
Spouses of elected officials have been known to serve on corporate boards, but not the elected official themselves.
No Indianapolis mayor or countywide elected official serves on a corporate board. Neither does the governor or an Indiana statewide elected official. No Federal elected or appointed official sits on a for-profit board.
So by what ethical standard or principal did Brizzi think he could serve on the corporate board of a company run by his BFF Tim Durham?
Fair’s documents said Brizzi was elected to the board in 2009. When was the election held? Why didn’t Fair Financial, Obsidian Enterprises or more importantly the Prosecutor’s Office put out a press release to that effect?
If there’d been no IBJ story, Marion County residents wouldn’t have known their elected prosecutor had been named to the board of a company that, though based in Ohio, does business with Indiana companies and entities. An action, which could create numerous conflict of interest problems for the prosecutor in a major business center like Indianapolis/Marion County.
After the raid, the speculation was how Durham’s potential legal troubles would impact Brizzi’s expected third term run. In my view, Durham’s legal problems aren’t the problem. It was the extraordinary lapse in judgment of our prosecutor for even thinking he could sit on a corporate board, while still prosecutor. Especially for the reason, as he told IBJ, to “learn about finance.”
The next Marion County prosecutor must have 1,000 percent devotion and dedication to the job. The four prosecutor candidates, including the now flawed incumbent, must address that issue.
Finally, a word about IBJ, whose coverage of the Durham scandal started the ball rolling. IBJ’s stories and coverage are in the best tradition of quality print journalism and reinforces the strengths of newspapers, especially weekly newspapers focused on their readers.
It also displays the weaknesses of daily newspapers with their depleted roster of veteran journalists who know community sources and resources.
Kudos to IBJ for showing that newspapers are still viable, strong and can still make a positive difference in a community.
See ‘ya next week!