As Ponzi scheming con-men go, Timothy Durham was no Bernie Madoff. Still, $200 million remains a relatively significant amount of defrauding, and Durham will be spending the next 50 years in The Big House because of it. Given that he’s 50 years old, this pretty much amounts to a life sentence. The prosecutors had asked for 225 years, so Durham should be counting his blessings. (Something to count, now that he doesn’t have much money or property left.) Of course, his attorney had asked for three years, so…
Durham was not just a pint-sized Madoff in terms of the amount he larged off with. Unlike Madoff, who, while bilking some middle-class folks, mostly schnookered the supremely well-to-do (before they got well-to-done, thanks to Bernie), Durham specialized in the little guys:
Durham and two associates were accused of bilking more than 5,100 mostly small blue-collar investors in Fair Financial from the time he bought the business in 2002 until its collapse in November 2009…
Unable to succeed legitimately as a businessman, Durham robbed thousands of investors to finance the trappings of a multi-millionaire lifestyle, complete with exotic cars, planes, mansions and assorted businesses," prosecutors said in a pre-sentencing report. (Source: Huffington Post.)
For those who weren’t familiar with Durham – I wasn’t – his is quite the colorful story. And quite the All American story, at that.
Among other tidbits, he got his big start in life when he married a rich man’s daughter and went to work for the old man, who was a wealthy entrepreneur. Durham quit being a boring old Indianapolis attorney and became an investor. His specialty was buying companies, sprucing them up, and the flipping the sale. And he had a niche: heavy-duty, Rustbelt companies that manufactured school buses, auto parts, cargo trailers. Stuff like that. You know, stuff.
Then he went Hollywood, buying up the remnants of The National Lampoon, part-aying at the Playboy Manager, and pirating around the Caribbean in his yacht. But for a while he stayed rooted in the Midwest and, as life went on, the cost of supporting the hot-shot lifestyle grew, and pretty soon – darn the luck – legitimate investments turned out not to be quite enough to cover his wildly growing nut. Among the businesses he got into:
… a rally-car builder, a plastic surgery center, a car magazine, a tour bus operator, a limo rental company, a nightclub, an Italian restaurant, and a cell-phone billing processor… (Source: Business Week.)
Now if that’s not a combination of the All American aspirational (plastic surgery, limo rental) and the All American standard (nightclub, Italian restaurant).
I am always intrigued and/or horrified by what these jamokes blow their – or, as is so often the case - somebody else’s money on.
For Durham, this included a party for 1,000 of his closest friends to celebrate his 45 birthday.
For this blessed even, he had:
…30 glamour models, flown in from Los Angeles, picked up at the airport in exotic cars from Durham’s collection, put up in a hotel, and paid standard modeling day rates, according to model Megan Hauserman. “He said it was a Playboy-themed party, so we should wear what we would typically wear to the mansion,” she says. The standard uniform there is lingerie and heels.
Where there are glamour models, there are, of course B- and C-list male guests. For this soiree, that meant Indianapolis Colts players, and none other than – brace yourself – Kato Kaelin. (Didn’t I tell you this was an All American story?)
Durham dressed like Hugh Hefner, in a plush robe. When he went to blow out the candles, his cake was frosted with his likeness in the center of a million-dollar bill.
Keepin’ it classy, eh?
By the way, the fleet of exotic cars used to ferry the glamour models to the party so they could meet Kato Kaelin included:
…a Lamborghini, an Aston Martin, a Bentley, and a 1929 Auburn Speedster. The crown jewel was a 1929 Duesenberg Phaeton, driven by Elvis Presley in the 1966 film Spinout.
Playboy party, Kato Kaelin, Elvis Presley. And just when you think you’ve read enough, you have one of those ‘but wait, there’s more’ moments:
Durham’s [30,000 square foot] home, too, was a monument to acquisition. Constructed in a faux-manor, brick-and-slate style, it included not one but three entrance gates, with a large interior courtyard for showing off vehicles, as well as a tennis court, and elaborate landscaping. On display inside, as he noted when a local television station came to visit, were a Picasso and one of Frank Sinatra’s Grammy Awards.
What did I tell you about All American aspirational – Picasso – and All American standard – Sinatra Grammy?
But how you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve bought The National Lampoon.
Short answer, you can’t.
Durham moved to Hollywood, where he rubbed shoulders with Gene Simmons and Khloe Kardashian, and became buds with Ludacris.
Durham pointed to one bedroom where he said the rapper Chris “Ludacris” Bridges was staying. In another there were boxes and boxes, stacked waist-high, filled with unworn shoes.
Shades of Imelda Marcos!
And if you think things couldn’t get any more ludicrous, among the blue collar folks that Durham bilked were:
…members of the Amish and Mennonite communities, who provided a steady revenue stream.
Talk about breaking Amish.
A few years back, as The House that Durham Built began its collapse, an Indianapolis TV station asked him:
“If you could recreate your wealth, would you spend [it] the same way?” they asked.
“Probably not. No, probably not,” he said.
What? No Kato Kaelin? No Elvis car? No Old Blue Eyes Grammy?
Say it isn’t so!