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May 29, 2007 > From flashy suits to prison garb

From flashy suits to prison garb

By Bruce Smith, Associated Press Writer

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP), May 25 _ Al Parish has exchanged his loud sports coats for gray prison scrubs and handcuffs. His purple Jaguar with the leopard-skin paint job went up for grabs on eBay. His Red Skelton paintings and million-dollar pen collection will likely be sold.

The flamboyant Parish, who taught economics at Charleston Southern University, routinely spoke at chamber of commerce meetings and was a go-to expert for news outfits seeking comments on 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.

His fall from grace was as sensational as the life he used to lead.

The 49-year-old Parish is now 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, Parish was in a hospital, claiming he was suffering from amnesia.

He is now in the Charleston County Detention Center. His lawyer says the memory loss won't be part of his defense _ that his client is recovering and has cooperated with investigators.

While a judge ordered Parish held in jail because of worries he might flee, defense attorney Andy Savage will be back in court Wednesday asking a federal magistrate to free his client.

``If you research all the major white collar crime cases from Enron to Adelphia _ all those large volume-dollar cases, everyone was released prior to trial,'' Savage said. Enron Corp. executives were free on bail before the convictions last year, as were Adelphia Communications Corp. founder John Rigas and his son, Timothy, whose fraud convictions were affirmed last week.

Officials have been unraveling details of 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 also say Parish was not registered with the state or with SEC to deal in securities, and that he promised investors returns that well beyond Wall Street's wildest dreams.

Some of those investors include an elderly Charleston couple who invested $35,000 _ money that was to be used for the man's Alzheimer's care. A Florida man invested money hoping to pay for care for his special needs son. 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 school scholarship money with Parish.

School president Jairy Hunter says the Baptist-affiliated college of about 3,000 students may suspend hiring and some building projects, but does not plan to cut scholarships or jobs _ expect for Parish's.

He was fired after the scandal broke. 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.

``People sometimes disappoint you,'' Hunter told students, faculty and staff during a campus meeting. ``We believed in a person, just as many of you did.''

But hundreds did believe the school's star economist. He grew up in the rural community of Hollywood, attended the College of Charleston and received a doctorate from the University of North Carolina. And he was armed with a folksy charm in addition to promises of stellar returns.

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, the latter consisting of such things as artwork, watches, expensive pens and jewelry.

``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.''

For years Parish was perhaps the best known personality at the university, producing economic forecasts and speaking regularly at chamber of commerce meetings.

He 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. The pen arrived at a local store in an armored car.

``You do not put ink in that pen,'' Parish said at the time. ``It's like owning a Ferrari that you don't want to drive.''

But Parish apparently won't be driving his eight-cylinder purple Jaguar, the roof painted by a local artist. It also will be sold to pay to recover money for investors. So will a high-end clothing store in Charleston that Parish bought two years ago.

Initially, investigators estimated Parish's clients lost about $134 million.

It's now thought to be somewhere closer to $50 million, said David Danzler, an attorney working with the court-appointed receiver in the case. Danzler expects to soon release a report on what authorities know about Parish's assets and the investors who lost money.

Savage, the defense lawyer, says his client may have lost much in buying hard assets.

``The picture is becoming very clear that he was buying things at inflated prices,'' Savage said. ``I think you'll find a lot of the so-called missing money was actually spent legitimately on items that were not worth what the sellers said they were.''


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