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Updated Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 10:49 AM

Leaders of failed American Marine Bank sued

By Sanjay Bhatt
Seattle Times business reporter

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has sued the former directors and officers of American Marine Bank on Bainbridge Island, seeking at least $18 million in damages for allegedly reckless loans to insiders and to borrowers as far away as Pennsylvania.

The January 2010 closure of the 61-year-old bank has cost the Federal Deposit Insurance Fund an estimated $61 million.

The FDIC sued the bank’s former leaders: Rex Townsend, CEO; Barbara Kaye, chief credit officer; Renzo Lucioni, chief financial officer; Gary Winter, also chief credit officer; and six board members.

According to the lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, the defendants negligently allowed American Marine to make 11 loans between May 2005 and December 2007 that violated the bank’s loan policies.

While more than 460 banks have failed nationwide since 2008, the FDIC has authorized lawsuits involving 95 of them.

So far, the agency has filed 45 lawsuits and settled four of them, including one in November against the former leaders of Westsound Bank of Bremerton. The FDIC filed that lawsuit in 2011, seeking to recover at least $15 million in losses, and settled it for $1.7 million.

American Marine opened in September 1948. The state-chartered bank, founded by Bainbridge Island residents, had about two-thirds of its assets in real-estate loans, a far lower rate than some other Washington banks that failed, such as Westsound.

Starting in 2004 under Townsend, American Marine chose to aggressively pursue high-risk lending and doubled its footprint by opening five new branches, according to the suit. The bank lost millions by participating in large speculative construction loans outside its primary market, the FDIC alleged.

It approved loans with “inadequate appraisals” to borrowers with weak or no demonstrated ability to repay the loan, the FDIC alleged.

For example, the bank was the lead lender on a $4.5 million loan, backed by two assisted-living centers and vacant land in New Stanton, Pa. The borrowers’ ability to repay the loan was doubtful, as their net worth was essentially the collateral. Townsend virtually “crammed down” approval of the loan without important loan documents and loan-committee approvals, the FDIC alleged.

The bank also lost millions by participating in loans put together by another bank for construction projects in Orem, Utah, and Douglas County, Colo. It did the same locally: The bank participated in a $16.5 million loan from Rainier Pacific Bank — which failed a month after American Marine did — for construction of 114 homes in Federal Way, even though the borrower recently had emerged from bankruptcy and lacked the earnings to support the debt.

Companies controlled by bank director David Berry — who is not a defendant in the lawsuit — received loans that violated the bank’s insider-loan policy, the FDIC alleged:

In June 2006 the bank approved a $1.95 million loan to Pacifica Construction for construction of a luxury home on Bainbridge Island. The bank’s outstanding credit to Berry at the time was about $4.7 million, far above its regulatory lending limit.

Similarly, in May 2007 the bank approved a $1.4 million loan to Berry’s Summerhill Estates partnership for speculative construction of luxury homes, even though the borrower “was highly leveraged and had a history of cost overruns on other construction projects.”

Like the Pacifica loan, the Summerhill loan violated the bank’s insider-loan policy, the FDIC alleged.

The bank’s former officers and directors had been in settlement negotiations with the FDIC before the lawsuit was filed Friday.

Barry Hovis, their San Francisco attorney, said he couldn’t comment because he had not seen the lawsuit yet.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com On Twitter @sbhatt

American Marine Bank

Failed Jan. 29, 2010

Founded: 1948

Headquarters: Bainbridge Island

Offices: 11

Assets (as of Dec. 31, 2009): $329.2 million

Source: FDIC


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