United States Attorney
Northern District of Georgia
Friday, October 21, 2011
Former Bank President Pleads Guilty in Multi-million Dollar Bank Fraud Conspiracy and Perjury in Atlanta
Conner Fleeced Failed Stockbridge Bank and at Least 10 Other Federally Insured Banks
ATLANTA – Mark A. Conner, 44, formerly of Canton, Ga., and Tallahassee, Fla., and the former president of FirstCity Bank of Stockbridge, Ga., pleaded guilty today to charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud in connection with misconduct at FirstCity Bank in the years before the bank's seizure by state and federal authorities on March 20, 2009. Conner also pleaded guilty to perjury in connection with his personal bankruptcy filing in federal bankruptcy court in January 2011.
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Sally Quillian Yates said, "Our nation's bank problems have contributed to the economic distress our citizens continue to experience across the country. We have felt this keenly in Georgia, with more than 70 bank failures since mid-2008, and another failure as recently as Oct. 14, 2011. This defendant treated FirstCity Bank's commercial real estate lending operations like his own personal piggy bank, siphoning off millions of dollars from fraudulent commercial real estate loans, ultimately running FirstCity into the ground. Along the way, Conner and others defrauded federal and state regulators and at least ten other federally insured banks in Georgia and Florida that invested in the fraudulent multi-million dollar loans."
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Inspector General Jon Rymer said, "The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General is pleased to join our law enforcement colleagues in defending the integrity of the financial services industry by investigating bank fraud perpetrated by senior bank officers. We are especially concerned in situations like this one where the former chairman and CEO of the bank misused his position of trust to defraud FirstCity Bank of Stockbridge, thus contributing to its failure. When he and his co-conspirators convinced at least 10 other federally insured institutions to invest in fraudulent loans to further the scheme, they jeopardized the safety and soundness of those institutions as well. We are committed to continuing our efforts to prosecute such criminal misconduct, help maintain the stability of the Nation's financial institutions, and ensure the viability of the Deposit Insurance Fund."
Christy Romero, Acting Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) said, "Despite Conner's fiduciary duties as president, CEO, and chairman of FirstCity Bank, for years he went to great lengths to lie to bank regulators, cheat the bank, and steal millions of dollars. He then attempted to steal more than $6 million in TARP funding from U.S. taxpayers and Treasury to cover his tracks. It is precisely this type of deception and greed by key bank insiders that contributed to and exacerbated the financial crisis. Fraud in connection with TARP will be aggressively investigated and prosecuted by SIGTARP and its law enforcement partners."
According to the charges and other information presented in court, Conner served in a variety of top positions at FirstCity Bank between 2004 and 2009, including as vice chairman of the board of directors, as a member of the bank's loan committee, as president and later as acting chairman and chief executive officer. While serving in these positions, Conner conspired with others to defraud FirstCity Bank's loan committee and board of directors into approving multiple multi-million dollar commercial loans to borrowers who, unbeknownst to FirstCity Bank, were actually purchasing property owned by Conner or his co-conspirators.
Conner and his co-conspirators misrepresented the essential nature, terms and underlying purpose of the loans and falsified documents and information presented to the loan committee and the board of directors. Conner and his co-conspirators caused at least 10 other federally-insured banks to invest in, or "participate in" the fraudulent loans based on these and other fraudulent misrepresentations, shifting all or part of the risk of default to the other banks. Conner alone reaped almost $7 million in proceeds from the loans alleged in the Indictment.
In the process of defrauding FirstCity Bank and the "participating" banks, to conceal their unlawful scheme, Conner and his co-conspirators routinely misled federal and state bank regulators and examiners. They also unsuccessfully sought federal government assistance through the U.S. Treasury Department's Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and engaged in other misconduct in an attempt to avoid seizure by regulators and prevent the discovery of their fraud. In an effort to make FirstCity Bank's financial position look much better than it really was, they made loans to buyers to purchase property that FirstCity Bank held as a result of foreclosure or similar actions without requiring that such buyers make the required down payments.
With respect to the perjury charge, on Jan. 5, 2011, knowing that he was under federal criminal investigation for his conduct at FirstCity bank, Conner filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Georgia. Among other misrepresentations and omissions, Conner's bankruptcy petition stated that he had a little over $3,000 in cash and financial accounts and essentially no un-encumbered interests in real estate. On Feb. 3, 2011, Conner falsely testified under oath at a bankruptcy hearing in federal court that, among other things, his bankruptcy petition was true and accurate in all respects and that he was "down to less than nothing" despite having a large liquid reserve several years ago. The investigation showed that in truth, Conner had and controlled off-shore accounts containing over $545,000 when he swore under oath that he was broke. In addition, Conner had $4 million in real estate investments from his off-shore accounts (that is, assets of his bankruptcy estate) that were not disclosed in his bankruptcy petition or in his sworn testimony in open court on Feb. 3, 2011.
Today, Conner tendered a guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. He was originally indicted in March 2011, along with FirstCity bank's former chief loan officer, Clayton A. Coe, on 12 counts of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, and operating a continuing financial crimes enterprise. The grand jury charged Conner and Coe with additional crimes in a superseding indictment returned in June 2011, which also added FirstCity Bank's former inside attorney, Robert E. Maloney Jr., as a new defendant in the case.
U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones will determine whether to accept Conner's guilty pleas after the preparation of a presentencing report. If Judge Jones accepts Conner's guilty pleas, he will be sentenced to 12 years in federal prison on all of the charges, be banned from the banking industry for life, forfeit $7 million and pay significant restitution to the FDIC and victim banks. Sentencing is set for Jan. 31, 2012, at 10 a.m.
Conner has been in federal custody since March 20, 2011– the two-year anniversary of FirstCity Bank's failure–when he was arrested by federal agents at Miami International Airport upon his arrival from the Turks and Caicos Islands in the West Indies.
This case is being investigated by Special Agents of the FDIC, Office of Inspector General; the Office of the SIGTARP, the FBI and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Douglas W. Gilfillan and David M. Chaiken are prosecuting the case.
This prosecution is part of efforts underway by President Barack Obama's Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes. For more information about the task force visit: www.stopfraud.gov.