Lavish assets may repay investors

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CHARLESTON, S.C. - Al Parish has exchanged his loud sports coats for gray prison scrubs and handcuffs. His purple Jaguar went up for grabs on eBay. His Red Skelton paintings and million-dollar pen collection will likely be sold.

Al Parish is being held in the Charleston County jail as a potential flight risk. The former economics professor has pleaded not guilty to duping about 600 investors out of millions of dollars in funds he said were trading profitably.  AP / File
AP / File
Al Parish is being held in the Charleston County jail as a potential flight risk. The former economics professor has pleaded not guilty to duping about 600 investors out of millions of dollars in funds he said were trading profitably.

The flamboyant Mr. Parish, who taught economics at Charleston Southern University, was a go-to expert for news outfits seeking insight into South Carolina's economy.

He had almost 600 investors in funds he managed and a Web site that depicted him in a superhero costume, a large "E" for "Economan" emblazoned on his chest.

The 49-year-old Mr. Parish is accused of defrauding his clients of $50 million - duping them into believing his funds were trading profitably.

He pleaded not guilty May 23 to 10 federal mail and wire fraud counts and one count of making false statements to Security and Exchange Commission officials.

When federal investigators revealed they were looking into his investments in April, Mr. Parish was in a hospital claiming amnesia.

Though a judge ordered Mr. Parish held in jail as a flight risk, defense attorney Andy Savage will be back in court Wednesday asking a federal magistrate to free his client.

Officials have been unraveling details of Mr. Parish's spending in a scramble to find his assets. But they say it is too early to tell how much they might be able to recover for the investors.

Authorities say Mr. Parish was not registered with the state or with the Securities and Exchange Commission to deal in securities, and that he promised investors returns well beyond Wall Street's wildest ambitions.

Investors include an elderly Charleston couple who invested $35,000 - money that was to be used for the man's Alzheimer's care. A widow invested her retirement money; a young financial consultant the $10,000 he saved since graduating from college several years ago.

But perhaps the biggest potential loser is Charleston Southern, which invested $10.6 million in scholarship funds with Mr. Parish.

School president Jairy Hunter says the college might suspend hiring and some building projects, but does not plan to cut scholarships or jobs - expect for Mr. Parish's.

He was fired after the scandal broke.

Mr. Parish faces lawsuits from his clients and the school which, in turn, also is being sued by investors who charge many of his financial transactions were conducted on campus.

Mr. Parish attended the College of Charleston and received a doctorate from the University of North Carolina.

He promised stellar returns with a folksy charm.

The federal indictment alleged the economist promised returns of 42 percent for his stock pool, 32 percent for his futures pool and 34 percent on his hard assets pool.

"If these returns were to be believed, then Al Parish could have commanded any dollar number he liked on Wall Street," said Mark French, a broker with Scott & Stringfellow in Charleston. "Those types of numbers are so unheard of, nobody on Wall Street would have believed them."

Mr. Parish had a penchant for the clown paintings of the comedian Red Skelton and expensive pens. Last fall he made headlines when he purchased a diamond-encrusted, $170,000 Montblanc fountain pen to add to his $1.2 million pen collection.

Mr. Parish apparently won't be driving his eight-cylinder purple Jaguar, which will be sold to compensate investors. So will a high-end clothing store in Charleston he bought two years ago.

It is believed that clients lost somewhere around $50 million, said David Danzler, an attorney working with the court-appointed receiver in the case.


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