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UPDATE: Feds raid Go Go Gorillas in massive fraud investigation

August 15, 2012|By DAVID BROCK and TODD KLEFFMAN | dbrock@amnews.com

U.S. postal inspectors, along with state and local law enforcement, raided Go Go Gorillas and the home of its owner Christopher Turner on Wednesday as part of a federal fraud investigation.

Misty Racimo with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service office in Lexington said authorities believe Turner defrauded multiple people in Danville and surrounding areas out of several million dollars. Racimo said Turner had not properly registered to receive investments in the state of Kentucky and is believed to have diverted funds he solicited for Go Go Gorillas and his other business interests for personal use.

Postal investigators have been involved because some of the alleged fraudulent solicitation of money took place through the U.S. mail, which constitutes a federal crime.

Investigators served search warrants issued at the request of Commonwealth's Attorney Richie Bottom shortly before 10 a.m. at Go Go Gorillas on South Danville Bypass, Turner's offices in Greenleaf Shopping Center on Lexington Road and his home at 117 Colonial Way.

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Turner, 48, was home when authorities arrived and went to Danville Police Department voluntarily for questioning. He has not been officially charged or arrested.

Racimo said the case against Turner likely will be presented in federal court. A mail fraud conviction can carry a 20-year prison sentence.

Undercover officers from the post office and the white collar unit of Kentucky State Police Drug Enforcement Special Investigations took several boxes and cameras inside Go Go Gorillas to collect evidence for more than three hours. KSP Sgt. Eric Gibson said the agents were gathering paperwork and dismantling computers, searching for any evidence to support the fraud allegations. 

The interior of the business had been stripped of its jungle-themed amusements and kitchen and dining equipment and was mostly empty, except for games. A sign on the door states the facility temporarily closed last month for a major renovation. It says Go Go Gorillas will reopen in September with new amusements and day care space for more than 100 children, to be called the Monkey See, Monkey Do Learning Center.

After several false starts, Go Go Gorillas finally opened its doors in December 2010 in the old Goody’s building. It operated as a self-described “fun center” built around animated characters called the Avenging Apes of Africa created by Grace Global Media, one of Turner’s companies. It had animatronic rides, a mini bowling alley, climbing wall and dozens of video games, plus a restaurant and dining area. It also promised educational opportunities tied to the local school curriculums.

But Go Go Gorillas and associated businesses were beset by lawsuits not long after the opening. Companies from across the country who had supplied the games, restaurant equipment, created the jungle motif and supplied the gaming prizes all claimed that Go Go Gorillas had fallen months behind on promised payments and asked the court for default judgments, most of which were granted. 

Brady Distribution Co. won a judgment of $230,000 against the fun center for failure to pay for dozens of video games and repossessed that equipment on July 6, according to records at the Boyle County Courthouse, where at least a dozen lawsuits have been filed against Turner and his companies.

Grace Global Media’s former offices at 305 W. Main St. were foreclosed upon by PBK Bank in Stanford and sold at a master commissioner’s sale in April.

A lawsuit filed by Jarboe Construction of Lexington, which had remodeled the building’s interior to suit Go Go Gorillas’ purposes, seeks about $70,000 for renovation work it alleges was never paid for. Turner was deposed for the lawsuit in May by Jarboe’s attorney, Thomas Glover, who asked Turner questions about his personal financial situation.

“Do you take a periodic draw from the revenue of the company?” Thomas asks in the deposition. Turner says, “No.”

“And so how do you get your money?” the attorney follows.

“Well, through my family and friends and loans. We don’t make enough money out there to make, you know, draw any salaries or anything for a long time,” Turner responds.

Thomas asks Turner if he owes money to anyone. “Oh, gosh, lots of people ... I mean, everything in there is pretty much leveraged. Something’s owed on everything, and there’s probably a judgment or some lawsuit pending on pretty much everything in there. We just ... it’s just horrible. Horrible place right now.”

Later in the interview, Thomas asks Turner where he gets money to pay for his daily expenses like utilities, food and gas.

“Like I said, you know, friends, family, loans, robbing Peter to pay Paul, so to speak.”

In the deposition, Turner said about 20 people are employed by Go Go Gorillas and admitted he often had difficulty making payroll. Some who were employed by Turner's company or did work for him tell of staff and contractors frequently going unpaid, angry investors and a climate that discouraged the discussion of finances.

Crystal Nichols said she was optimistic about getting in early with a new business when she started applying for a job as sales manager with Go Go Gorillas in 2010, a process that included five interviews. She worked for the company from June 2010 until she said she quitNew Year's Eve2010, in part because of continued uncertainty about whether she would be paid and in part because of the bizarre experience she had trying to promote something that didn't exist yet. 

According to Nichols, she and other employees were sometimes not paid and other times their paychecks bounced when they were taken to the bank. 

Nichols said she wasn't familiar with how capital was raised to fund the animation business or Go Go Gorillas but did see Turner and others bringing groups of potential investors to the business. However, she did hear from unhappy investors during the course of her job.

On one of her visits to a local church to drop off literature, Nichols said she was stopped by a woman who banged on her car window as she was pulling out of the parking lot. Nichols said the woman was one of several people who, after finding out she worked for Turner and Go Go Gorillas, said they had invested large sums of money but never seen either a return or heard what their money was used for.

When she expressed concerns about run-ins with investors, Nichols said she was discouraged from bringing it up again.

“We didn't talk about money,” Nichols said, noting she did not recall talking to Turner about problems with the business. “I told them (her supervisors) what was going on, and they acted like they didn’t know what I was talking about. Any time money came up, I was told we shouldn't discuss money.”

Daniel Burton runs Image Plus, a business that sells and services computers, printers and copiers, among other office electronics. He had worked for Turner frequently in the past and says he is still owed about $1,000 for work he completed.

Burton said he set up wireless internet at Go Go Gorillas and did various other jobs for the company, including helping with moving the computer server and reinstalling equipment when the offices moved from one when location to another. He said he had trouble getting paid for jobs until Turner needed other work done, forcing him to ask for prepayment on any future jobs.

Burton’s teenage son apparently had a similar experience when he went to work for Go Go Gorillas. 

After his first paycheck for about $15 couldn’t be cashed because of insufficient funds, Burton said his son was paid in cash when it came time for his second paycheck. After questioning whether he had been fully compensated for the hours he worked, Burton said his son filed a claim with the Kentucky Labor Cabinet.

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