The former president of New York's privately held Park Avenue Bank was arrested on Monday on fraud charges, the first person accused of attempting to steal U.S. government bailout funds in the financial crisis.
The charges came just three days after regulators seized the bank, which had $520 million in assets.
A 10-count criminal complaint said Charles Antonucci devised an elaborate round-trip loan transaction that he told others was his own $6.5 million investment in Park Avenue Bank, misleading bank regulators. Antonucci made false statements in the bank's application for $11.2 million from TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, according to the complaint.
Antonucci is the first person ever to be charged with attempting to defraud the TARP and we expect he will not be the last, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said at a news conference.
He declined to give further details of the continuing investigation, other than to say prosecutors and New York state bank regulators would be making a review of banks that appear to be having problems.
Antonucci, 59, appeared in Manhattan federal court and was released on $2 million bond. He did not enter a plea, but his lawyer said he would plead not guilty.
Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general of TARP, told the news conference that Antonucci launched a criminal enterprise as soon as the U.S. Treasury announced its historic program to bail out the banks in late 2008.
The charges today send a powerful message to those who tried to steal from the TARP, those who have stolen from the TARP and those who are contemplating similar fraudulent action, Barofsky said.
You will be tracked down; you will be caught; you will be arrested; and you will be brought to justice.
Bharara described a complex fraud, including a line of credit through a company called Easy Wealth; overdrafts to companies controlled by an unidentified co-conspirator; leases on personal property paid by the bank; a counterfeit certificate of deposit; and a $100,000 defrauding of the pastors of a church in Coral Springs, Florida.
A second person, identified as Carlos Peralta, was charged with involvement in the scheme to defraud the church pastors. He was arrested in Colorado and was expected to appear in court in Denver.
On Friday, regulators closed Park Avenue Bank and its deposits were sold to Valley Valley National Bank, part of Valley National Bancorp of Wayne, NJ.
The regulators determined Park Avenue Bank was badly managed and critically undercapitalized, according to a statement on Friday by the New York State Banking Superintendent.
Antonucci was president of the bank from June 2004 to October 2009 and the alleged offenses occurred between October 2008 and February 2009, according to the court document.
Investigators from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) first received a tip in Ecuador that someone there was interested in making an illegal business deal with Antonucci, ICE special-agent-in-charge James Hayes told reporters.
The criminal complaint said that while the bank's TARP application was under review by the FDIC, Charles Antonucci encouraged and caused other individuals acting on behalf of the bank to encourage the FDIC to grant the bank's TARP application, in part on the basis of Antonucci's purported personal investment of $6.5 million in new capital.
Antonucci and others repeatedly singled out Antonucci's $6.5 million capital investment as evidence that the bank was viable and deserving of TARP funds.
Instead, the complaint said, the investment was a sham, round-trip transaction using the bank's own funds and was designed, at least in part, to deceive regulators about the bank's capital position.
In November 2008, Park Avenue Bank applied for a bailout of less than $12 million under the TARP program, but withdrew its application over concerns about restrictions on banks that receive taxpayer money, bank chairman Donald Glascoff said a year ago.
Antonucci was arrested on Monday morning at his home in Fishkill, New York. The charges include self-dealing, bank bribery, embezzlement and fraud on the New York state banking department, U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp and TARP.
If convicted, he would face up to 30 years in prison on some of the charges.
These charges are what they are -- charges, Antonucci's lawyer, Charles Stillman, told reporters.
(Reporting by Grant McCool; additional reporting by Edith Honan; editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Robert MacMillan and Andre Grenon)