Before authorities raided his Danville fun center as part of a multimillion-dollar fraud investigation, Paul Christopher Turner was the target of lawsuits over unpaid bills and claimed he had only "$500 to his name," according to investigators and court records.
Turner chief executive and manager of Go Go Gorillas! Fun Center, is under investigation for allegedly using the mail fraudulently to get people to invest in his company, said Misty Racimo of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. A fun center, home and an office in Danville were raided Wednesday to gather evidence.
Turner allegedly used the mail to solicit money from investors or "provided documents to further his scheme through the mail to his investors," Racimo said. The case involves "several millions of dollars," she said.
However, Racimo said Turner was not arrested or charged Wednesday.
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Turner, 48, did not answer his cell telephone number Thursday, and no one answered the door of his Danville home.
Electronic files and business records were seized, Racimo said. In addition to the fun center on the U.S. 127 Bypass, authorities served warrants at Turner's home on Colonial Way and an office in Greenleaf Shopping Center on Lexington Road, said Sgt. Richard Saint-Blancard of the Kentucky State Police Public Affairs Branch.
State police worked in tandem with the Kentucky Department of Financial Institutions and the Postal Inspection Service, Saint-Blancard said. The Department of Financial Institutions regulates securities in the state and has investigated cases in which a person is not registered to receive investments. But the department cannot bring criminal charges in such cases, and so relies on other agencies to prosecute.
Turner told the Herald-Leader in 2008 that he planned to build a Go Go Gorillas! Fun Center (Motto: "Where kids can go ape!") near AmStar Stadium 14 movie theaters in Brannon Crossing in northern Jessamine County, but that didn't happen.
Turner said at the time that the fun center would have a rock-climbing wall, bumper cars, a glow-in-the-dark miniature golf, mini bowling, video games, a fast-food restaurant and other attractions.
Turner was the CEO of Danville-based Grace Animation Studios, which was working on a cartoon series called The Avenging Apes of Africa. Grace Animation executives told the Herald-Leader in early 2006 that $1.5 million had been raised from private investors over the previous three years, and they were raising an additional $5.5 million for production of the animated episodes.
The Kentucky secretary of state's Web site lists Turner as president of The Grace Foundation, sole officer of Grace Global Media Corp. and manager of Grace Animation Studios LLC and Grace Fun Center. The site listed the status of all those companies as "pending dissolution."
Before Wednesday's raid of the fun center, home and office, Turner's business practices raised concerns.
State Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Danville, told the Herald-Leader earlier this year that he put $20,000 of his own money into the studio and recruited several investors on behalf of Turner. Harmon said he quit later after getting only one paycheck.
"Christopher has had some problems," Harmon said at the time. "I started to suspect that Christopher's fiduciary abilities were not what we had thought they were." Harmon could not be immediately reached Thursday afternoon.
Boyle Circuit Court listed several lawsuits filed against Turner for unpaid bills and a foreclosure. Judgments against him included $11,157 for unpaid advertising to the Danville newspaper and $14,240 for unpaid advertising to LM Communications Radio Group. A construction company that renovated a former Goody's clothing store for the Danville fun center seeks more than $68,000. Turner said in a 2009 deposition that he faced at least $500,000 in liabilities and had only $500 to his name.
In another deposition taken in April, Turner said he has no savings account, retirement account, securities, government bonds or safety deposit box. Asked who has given him money, Turner said, "My parents, friends, and, like I said, loans from people."
The fun center was closed Thursday. A sign on the door indicated that "some major changes" would be coming to the fun center, such as the addition of a day-care center called the "Monkey See Monkey Do Learning Center." The sign said the center would provide child care for more than 100 children between the ages of 2 and 12 beginning in September.
Racimo said authorities "are looking at prosecuting" Turner in federal court.
Kyle Edelen, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Lexington, wrote in an email that "our office is prohibited from confirming or denying the existence of an investigation. We can only speak on a matter once it's indicted."
Racimo said the U.S. Postal Inspection Service asks that anyone with information about investing with Turner call the National Law Enforcement Communications Center at 1-877-876-2455 and reference Case No. 1923942. The communications center is open 24 hours a day.