NOTHING about 1209 North Orange Street hints at the secrets inside. It’s a humdrum office building, a low-slung affair with a faded awning and a view of a parking garage. Hardly worth a second glance. If a first one.
But behind its doors is one of the most remarkable corporate collections in the world: 1209 North Orange, you see, is the legal address of no fewer than 300,000 separate businesses.
Its occupants, on paper, include giants like American Airlines, Apple, Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Ford, General Electric, Google, JPMorgan Chase, and Wal-Mart. These companies do business across the nation and around the world. Here at 1209 North Orange, they simply have a dropbox.
What attracts these marquee names to 1209 North Orange and to other Delaware addresses also attracts less-upstanding corporate citizens. For instance, 1209 North Orange was, until recently, a business address of Timothy S. Durham, known as “the Midwest Madoff.” On June 20, Mr. Durham was found guilty of bilking 5,000 mostly middle-class and elderly investors out of $207 million. It was also an address of Stanko Subotic, a Serbian businessman and convicted smuggler — just one of many Eastern Europeans drawn to the state.
Big corporations, small-time businesses, rogues, scoundrels and worse — all have turned up at Delaware addresses in hopes of minimizing taxes, skirting regulations, plying friendly courts or, when needed, covering their tracks. Federal authorities worry that, in addition to the legitimate businesses flocking here, drug traffickers, embezzlers and money launderers are increasingly heading to Delaware, too. It’s easy to set up shell companies here, no questions asked.