Former Bank President Becomes First Charged with TARP Fraud
[Update 1: Adds comment from Antonucci's attorney] Just days after the New York State Banking Department (NYSBD) closed The Park Avenue Bank, the failed bank’s former president was arrested, allegedly becoming the first defendant ever charged with attempting to defraud the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Charles Antonucci, Sr., the 59-year-old president and CEO of The Park Avenue Bank from June 2004 to October 2009, is accused of self-dealing, bank bribery embezzlement and fraud, according to Preet Bharara, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York. In a complaint unsealed in Manhattan federal court, Antonucci is alleged to have attempted to deceive the NYSBD and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) into believing he invested $6.5m of his own money to shore up The Park Avenue Bank’s capital position. In reality, the compliant continues, Antonucci took the money from the bank, transferred it into accounts he controlled, and later re-deposited the funds. The complaint alleges Antonucci did this in support of an application for more than $11m in TARP funds. When the FDIC told Antonucci it would not recommend approval of the bank’s TARP application, he voluntarily withdrew the application, the complaint said. Neil Barofsky, the Special Inspector General for the TARP (SIGTARP) said it was the first time anyone has been charged with crimes related to TARP. "This case should stand as a stark warning to would-be wrongdoers that if you attempt to profit criminally from this historic program, SIGTARP and its law enforcement partners will work tirelessly to ensure that you will be caught, you will be charged, and you will be brought to justice,” Barofsky said in prepared remarks. On Friday, the NYSBD seized the offices, branches, and assets of The Park Avenue Bank and appointed the FDIC receiver. The four branches reopened as branches of Valley National Bank, which will pay the FDIC a premium of 0.15% to assume all of The Park Avenue Bank’s $494.5m in deposits. In addition, Valley National Bank agreed to purchase essentially all of the failed bank’s $520m in assets. The failure is estimated to cost the FDIC Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) $50.7m. In addition to the alleged TARP fraud, the charges claim Antonucci masked his alleged ownership of a company called Easy Wealth Group to obtain a $400,000 line of credit, a violation of the bank’s self-dealing regulations. Easy Wealth allegedly defaulted on that line of credit. Antonucci is also alleged to have approved $8.5m in overdrafts to companies controlled by a co-conspirator in exchange for use of the conspirator’s private plane. The charges claim he used the plane to take trips to Arizona to attend the Super Bowl, for instance, and Georgia to attend the Masters golf tournament, among other trips. The complaint also alleges Antonucci used his position of power at the bank to secure more than $1m to improve, lease, and pay expenses for three properties that he had an ownership interest in. Antonucci is also alleged to have defrauded the pastors of the Calvary Springs Chapel in Coral Springs, Fla. out of $103,940. The church allegedly paid Antonucci the money as an investment to build a new church, with the promise of a $604,848 return on investment, but instead, the complaint alleges, Antonucci and a co-conspirator kept the money themselves. All told, the 10 charges against Antonucci carry a maximum penalty of 260 years in jail, a $7.75m fine, plus restitution. The investigation was a joint effort between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the FDIC Office of the Inspector General (FDIC-OIG), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the NYSBD, SIGTARP and the US Attorney’s Office. Antonucci's attorney, Charles Stillman, told HousingWire his client was released on bail Monday, but declined further comment. Write to Austin Kilgore.