It remains to be seen whether the FDIC will pursue civil actions against former directors and officers of failed banks, but it has made it clear that it will file criminal actions in cases where it suspects fraud. According to news reports, on May 7, 2010, the U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of Georgia unsealed indictments against two former officers of the failed Integrity Bank as well as against a real estate developer whom the officials said obtained $80 million in improper loans from the bank.


Douglas Ballard, the bank’s former Executive Vice President in charge of client relationships and a member of the bank’s board of directors, and Joseph Todd Foster, the bank’s former Executive Vice President for Risk Management, are charged with conspiracy, insider trading and bank fraud. The developer, Guy Mitchell, is charged with conspiracy and bribery.


The indictment alleges that Mitchell and companies he controlled obtained more than $80 million in business loans from Integrity Bank. He allegedly obtained the loans under false pretenses and deposited nearly $20 million in a checking account used for personal expenses, included over $1.5 million spent on a private island in the Bahamas. Later loans were used to pay interest on earlier loans.


The indictment also alleges that Mitchell paid Ballard, who authorized the loans, over $290,000 over a nine month period (half in cash and half in a cashier’s check) as a reward for Ballard’s assistance.


Ballard and Foster are also alleged to have committed securities fraud by engaging in insider trading. They are alleged to have sold all of their shares based on inside information (specifically, with knowledge of the bank’s problems with Mitchell’s loans).


Many of the news reports about the indictment have highlighted the fact that Integrity Bank had been founded with a faith-based theme. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution (here), bank employees regularly prayed before meetings and in bank lobbies with customers.


The FDIC took control of the bank in August 2008. The Atlanta Journal Constitution article quotes the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia as saying that the alleged fraud "was substantial contributing factor to the collapse," adding that "more than $80 million was given away from a dirty insider who was taking payoffs from the developer. That’s more that the average bank has had to deal with."


The Wall Street Journal (here) also quotes the U.S. Attorney as saying that "We are continuing to investigate and potentially other officials could be charged."


Statements by agency officials suggest that this prosecution may not be an isolated event. The indictment reportedly was the result of an interagency collaboration that included the FDIC’s Office of Inspector General. News reports quote the FDIC’s Inspector General as saying that "we are particularly concerned when senior bank officials, who are in positions of trust within their institutions, are alleged to be involved in unlawful activity. Prosecutions of individuals and entities involved in criminal misconduct maintain the safety and soundness of the Nation’s financial institutions."


The FDIC had already demonstrated substantial interest in claims involving Integrity Bank. As I discussed in a prior post (here), the FDIC intervened in the derivative lawsuit that had been brought by the bankruptcy trustee of the bank’s holding company against four former directors and officers of the holding company and the bank. The court granted the FDIC’s motion to intervene and also granted the FDIC’s motion to have the trustee’s claims dismissed, holding that under FIRREA the agency had the exclusive right to pursue claims on behalf of the bank. Basically, the FDIC made it clear that if anybody is going to pursue claims against the former officers, it is going to be the FDIC.


I had interpreted the FDIC’s moves in the bankruptcy trustee’s lawsuit as evidence that the FDIC intended to pursue its own claims against the former officials of Integrity Bank. But I was expecting civil claims; I certainly did not forsee this criminal prosecution. The FDIC may yet pursue civil claims as well. But it is nevertheless interesting that the FDIC is going ahead with criminal prosecutions but not yet pursuing its own civil actions, either in connection with Integrity or really any other failed banks.


Special thanks to the several readers who sent me links to news articles about the Integrity indictment.


Meanwhile the Investor Lawsuits Continue to Emerge: While we all wait to see that whether the FDIC will unleash a flood of failed bank claims as it did during the S&L crisis, the failed banks’ aggrieved investors are continuing to file their own claims against the directors and officers of the failed institutions.


The latest of these investor lawsuits is the securities class action lawsuit filed on May 7, 2010 in the Central District of California against certain former directors and officers of First Regional Bancorp, the holding company for First Regional Bank, a Los Angeles based bank that regulators closed on January 29, 2010. According the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ May 7 press release (here), the defendants "caused the Company to disseminate financial statements that were not fairly presented in conformity with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and were materially false and misleading, and failed to make complete and timely disclosures concerning certain actions taken by regulators."


The First Regional lawsuit follows several other recent securities lawsuits that have involved failed banks. For example, on April 15, 2010, investors filed a securities lawsuit in the Western District of Washington against Frontier Financial Corp., the holding company of Frontier Bank, and certain of its directors and officers. Regulators closed Frontier Bank on April 30, 2010.


There have also been a number of securities lawsuits filed against other troubled banks, including Sterling Financial, Smithtown Bancorp and Haven Trust Bancorp.


In addition to securities class action lawsuits, investors are pursuing a variety of other kinds of claims against former directors and officers of failed banks, as illustrated, for example, by the recent action for negligent misrepresentation filed against the former officials of the failed Alpha Bank and Trust, about which refer here.


At this point, it seems well-established that failed bank investors intend to pursue these kinds of claims, although whether they will succeed and produce value for the claimants remains to be seen. My recent post discussing plaintiffs’ dismissal motion record in these kinds of cases can be found here.