Some Parish investors should get restitution

Al Parish is serving a 24-year prison sentence in North Carolina.

One group of Al Parish investors won big in court this week: They should get all their pilfered money back.

A settlement agreement reached Monday means Charles Schwab & Co., as an individual retirement account custodian, owes those clients nearly $5.7 million.

If approved by a federal judge in a "fairness hearing" set for November, the settlement should dole out to 35 people about $4.2 million after fees, or "approximately equal to net investment," according to court filings.

Parish, the self-described Economan and former Charleston Southern University professor who led a $66 million investment fraud, directed some investors to open accounts with Battery Wealth Management, a Mount Pleasant business he partly owned, according to court filings.

Parish used the now-dissolved Battery Wealth to maintain a master account at Charles Schwab & Co. for the investors' accounts.

According to the lawsuit, Charles Schwab & Co. gave Parish, through Battery Wealth, power over these accounts to purchase his own unregistered securities. Charles Schwab & Co. mailed statements to those investors without verifying the numbers or requiring Parish to verify them, according to court documents.

Investor accounts should have totaled $520 million, according to Parish's business records, when really they held less than $1 million in cash and less than $25 million in hard assets, according to court filings.

The money entrusted to Parish instead went "to support his extravagant lifestyle, to purchase dubious items of art work, antiques, and jewelry and to redeem money to those investors who wished to liquidate all or a portion of their investment," the lawsuit said.

The settlement breaks the victims into two groups, those who owned at least one account with an entity called Equity Trust Co. and those who did not.

The settlement applies only to the latter group because those who invested with Equity Trust transferred their accounts to Charles Schwab & Co. after Equity Trust had disengaged from Parish, according to Columbia attorney Jim Griffin, who represents the investors.

An attorney for Charles Schwab & Co. declined to comment on this week's agreement.

Griffin said another 20 or more clients fall into the Equity Trust group.

"We will be as vigorous with that group as we have with this one and hope for the same result," he said.

Griffin said he expects the non-Equity Trust group to receive its distribution checks before year's end.

In all, nearly 500 people lost money in Parish's scheme, which was uncovered in April 2007. He was sentenced in 2008 to 24 years in a North Carolina federal prison after pleading guilty to the fraud.