Banker guilty of fraud

Published 9:49 pm Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A little more than seven months after the State Corporation Commission stepped in and forced the closure of the Bank of the Commonwealth, one of the failed financial institution’s officers pleaded guilty on Wednesday to bank fraud conspiracy.

Jeremy C. Churchill, 35, of Norfolk pled guilty in Norfolk Federal District Court to “conspiring with others to cause the Bank of the Commonwealth to suffer millions of dollars in losses from loans meant to conceal financial problems at the Bank and with one of its customers,” according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Bank of the Commonwealth’s branches, including one on Western Avenue in Suffolk, reopened Sept. 24 as branches of Southern Bank, the Mount Olive, N.C.-based financial institution that purchased most of Bank of the Commonwealth’s assets, including $901.8 million in deposits.

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Bank of the Commonwealth had been closed the previous day, when regulators from the SCC’s Bureau of Financial Institutions and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. took control of the bank at the close of business.

Bank of the Commonwealth was the second Virginia-based banking institution to be closed by the SCC last year and the 72nd FDIC-insured institution to fail in 2011, according to FDIC officials.

Court records indicate that in November 2008, Bank of the Commonwealth applied for $28 million from the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program. Regulators, however asked the bank to withdraw that application after a review concluded that the bank’s financial condition “had deteriorated to an unsafe and unsound condition and raised concerns regarding numerous practices that management used to mask the past due status of loans, including extending new loans so that borrowers could pay on existing loans,” according to U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride.

Churchill, a bank vice president and commercial loan officer, admitted that he had been directed by another conspirator at the Bank to submit multiple requests to provide $1-million loans to Tivest Development & Construction and Genesis Staffing under the guise of funding a Norfolk office tower project. The loans actually would be used to help Tivest keep current on $8 million in other debt already on file with the bank.

A separate $4.1-million loan was to have funded completion of a Virginia Beach condominium project that Churchill and the other conspirators believed “would cause the Bank to suffer a significant financial loss if it foreclosed,” MacBride said in his press release.

Construction draws against that loan were inflated, and the overages were used to make interest payments. By October 2010, the $4.1-million loan had been fully funded, but the work was only half finished.

By June of last year, the bank had charged off a $250,000 loan to Genesis Staffing, according to MacBride, and a $730,000 line of credit to Tivest, along with $1.3 million of the loan for the condominium project, which the city of Virginia Beach had assessed for about half that amount.

Churchill faces as much as five years in prison when he is sentenced in August.