Saturday, May 28, 2011

Palmer: The story behind the story

When Post Register reports first inquired about Daren Palmer two and a half years ago, state and federal regulators had never heard of him or his company, Trigon Group.

For months, we had been hearing bits and pieces about a local investment scheme that might be in some trouble. Information came in dribs and drabs, often incomplete or simply not factual. Investors we talked to were concerned, but they didn’t want to talk to us on the record.

At one point, Post Register reporters and editors gathered around a white board and charted everything we knew or suspected, drawing lines connecting various companies and people to try to sort it all out. Meanwhile, reporters Sven Berg and Clark Corbin spent hours knocking on doors and making phone calls, often getting nowhere.

We were cautious, never printing anything that we hadn’t verified, and never relying on off-the-record or anonymous sources. As state and federal investigators began looking into Trigon, some investors pushed back, blaming our reporting for stirring up trouble. “Just because you were the ones who shouted ‘iceberg’ doesn’t mean you sank the Titanic,” one investigator told us.

In February of 2009, one investor, Scott Hillam, went public with his story and backing documents, which encouraged other investors to talk to us. The coverage really broke open on Feb. 28, when the federal government filed a civil case against Palmer, charging that he had operated a Ponzi scheme. Palmer’s assets were frozen. Eventually, his unfinished $4 million home would go on the market.

It would be 26 long months before Palmer would face criminal charges. The plea deal that Palmer signed last week includes the astonishing statement that Palmer had received nearly $76 million from 68 investors and that “they lost in excess of $20 million.”

The investigation is not over. In his plea agreement, Palmer promises to “provide truthful and complete information to the government and its investigative agencies, including testimony in legal and administrative proceedings, concerning the defendant’s role and the role of all others involved in offense-related behaviors.”

Over the past several months, our reporters called investigators every day for updates. When we learned that Palmer had started a new company, we actually held the story for a couple of weeks, since we expected charges to be filed any day. Ironically, the day after we decided to print the story about Palmer’s new business, the charges were filed.

While the story will continue to play out, the criminal charges and Palmer’s agreement to plead guilty are the climax of a series of events that started with a small group of reporters and editors who didn’t stop looking when all roads seemed to lead to nowhere.

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