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Feds Say Big GOP Donor Lampooned Elderly Investors In $200M Ponzi Scheme

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The indictment said that Durham and an associate used loans to "maintain their lifestyles and to pay for personal expenses," according to Reuters. Durham had $150,000 wired over so he could spend it at a casino, while his associate James Cochran took $50,000 to pay country club fees, according to the indictment.

Durham served as CEO of Fair Finance, a consumer finance company in Ohio, which is at the heart of the alleged scam. As the New York Times reports, Durham was accused by a bankruptcy trustee for Fair Finance of lending himself $54 million, much of which was used to help finance a lavish lifestyle -- "at his Indianapolis home, a 45-car garage housed an Aston Martin designed to look like the car James Bond drove in Goldfinger,' while in Miami he kept a four-bedroom yacht."

The SEC said that Durham and Fair Finance chairman James Cochran "distributed large amounts of money to family members and friends, and misused investor funds to afford mortgages for multiple homes, a $3 million private jet, a $6 million yacht, and classic and exotic cars worth more than $7 million. They also diverted investor money to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in gambling and travel expenses, credit card bills, and country club dues, and to pay for elaborate parties and other forms of entertainment."

According to the complaint, Durham and associates deceived more than 5,000 investors, many of them elderly people with modest incomes. Along with CEO Durham and Cochran, Rick Snow, Fair Finance's CFO, is charged with making false and misleading misrepresentations to investors concerning the company's financial condition and the safety of investments.

When Durham and Cochran bought Fair Finance in 2002, it was a successful family-run consumer finance company with a solid reputation, according to court documents. The company's business model relied on selling variable rate investment certificates to Ohio residents.

But once Durham and Cochran acquired the company, the men immediately began booking fraudulent loans, prosecutors allege. While investors believed their money was going to make legitimate loans, which would give them returns on their investment certificates, Durham and associates were allegedly spending the cash on themselves. By 2009, they had allegedly booked more than $200 million in these fake "loans," prosecutors said.

Durham gave $2,300 to Rudolph Giuliani in 2007, according to campaign finance records. He also gave $4,600 to former Indiana Rep. Baron Hill (D) the same year. He gave nearly $4,000 to Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) in 2005 and $2,300 to Jon Elrod, a Republican candidate for an Illinois congressional seat. Durham reportedly has given more than $800,000 to the Republican Party and candidates in Indiana, including nearly $200,000 to Gov. Mitch Daniels.

WISH TV has a report on the arrest featuring video of Durham showing off his vintage cars:

Additional reporting by Melissa Jeltsen.