Amish investors defrauded

Local Amish families and other local folks, including some of my closest friends, were apparently defrauded by Fair Financial, which allegedly ran a Madoff style pyramid scheme.

Our local newspaper, The Daily Record, reported, “In court documents filed Nov. 24, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana filed a civil lawsuit, which was later dismissed, accusing Fair Finance co-owner Tim Durham, his companies and associates of defrauding customers by getting them to buy investment certificates, and that the money was used to make interest and redemption payments to earlier investors.”

Many of Fair Financial’s customers face devastating losses. One young Amish family I know of sold their modest home. They planned to live in an aged mobile home and while they built their new home. They parked their life savings at Fair. The company shut its doors the day after the basement for their new home was dug. Now they have nothing but the rusty old mobile home and a hole in the ground.

Another woman I’ve known all my life invested her retirement savings of $30,000 at Fair. When told of their problems, she said, “Oh I’m not worried, I’ll just go down and get my money back.” Her family had to break the news to her that it wasn’t going to be that easy.

It wasn’t too long ago that most Amish frowned on investing in the stock market or any other type of “outsider” business. But, times are a’changin’. Many Amish men (yes, in their community, it’s nearly all men) are leaving their farms and going into business. (For example, Pioneer Equipment and Homestead Furniture.)

A few now have real money to invest. And, most prefer to invest with someone they know and trust.

For more information on non-farm Amish businesses, click on the photo to see my Secrets of Success blog series.
For more information on non-farm Amish businesses (including the one at this Amish farm in Pennsylvania), click on the photo to see my “Secrets of Success” blog series.

As it turns out, quite a few thought they knew and could trust the brokers at Fair Financial, outsider or not. Coincidentally or not, many of Fair Financial’s offices were in communities where many Amish lived.

Local Fair Financial office (photo courtesy WKSU.ORG)
Local Fair Financial office (photo courtesy WKSU.ORG)

Now it seems that a group of Amish investors might be trying to get their money back, at least according to

A lawsuit was filed locally against Fair by a group of investors. (Who can blame them, right?) The unusual thing is that they used a Limited Liability Corporation, which allows them to keep their identities secret.

As it happens, Amish theology (based on Bible passages Matthew 5 and 1st Corinthians 6) teaches that going to court is wrong. Since the suit was filed by a law firm known for handling Amish legal needs (such as real estate transfers and wills), local wags are claiming that Amish investors are behind the suit.

I guess folks figured that out by connecting the dots. First, there is the unusual method of filing. Second, the work was done by a lawyer that has a lot of Amish clients.

It’s all pretty circumstantial, but it sets up a moral struggle for me. If it’s true that the suit was filed by Amish who wanted their identities to remain secret, a cynic could say, “I guess the Amish live by their faith unless it means they will lose money.”

On the other hand, most of the Amish I know would not have invested money with Fair Financial (or anyone else). Many have taken some pretty good-sized financial losses because they avoided going to court.

The whole story leaves a bad taste in my mouth. First of all, no one really knows who filed the suit. Maybe it was all non-Amish folks who were simply embarrassed that they got burned. Maybe it’s none of our business. And, maybe, just maybe, it ought to make each of us think, “If I were faced with a choice between something I believed was morally wrong and losing my life savings, what would I do?”

Galen Lehman
Galen Lehman, President, Lehman’s

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PS – To get the latest news on the Fair Financial debacle as it unfolds, click here.

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