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Former bank president arrested, charged with stealing bailout funds

By Associated Press
Monday, March 15, 2010 20:02 EDT
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The former president of a small Manhattan community bank on Monday became the first person accused of trying to defraud the federal bailout program.

Prosecutors also contend that Charles Antonucci Sr., stole so he could live a lavish lifestyle that included a Super Bowl junket.

He was arrested Monday.

Antonucci, 59, of Fishkill, was charged with self-dealing, bank bribery, embezzlement and fraud. The criminal complaint was filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. If convicted, he could face up to 260 years in federal prison.

Authorities said the rip-off targeted the New York State Banking Department, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Antonucci resigned last year as president of The Park Avenue Bank, which is headquartered in Manhattan with four retail branches in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The bank was taken over by the FDIC on Friday and reopened Saturday as a new institution with its half billion dollars in assets protected, authorities said.

Among other allegations, Antonucci was accused of using false information to request $11.3 million from the federal government’s TARP bank bailout program.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the arrest represented “decisive action against fraud and deceit in the banking industry.”

He said Antonucci “put his personal greed ahead of his professional duties” after his bank ran into financial troubles in 2008.

Bharara said Antonucci lied to banking authorities in late 2008 and early 2009 to make them believe he had invested $6.5 million of his own money in the bank when the money actually belonged to the bank and had merely been moved around to make it seem as if it came from Antonucci.

The prosecutor said it was the “functional equivalent of Monopoly money” and was meant to convince federal authorities he should qualify for TARP money, a program to aid struggling banks that was announced on Oct. 14, 2008.

Antonucci’s bank submitted its application for TARP money a month later, on Nov. 14, 2008.

In an effort to press his application for the TARP money, he made telephone calls to FDIC regulators reviewing the bank’s TARP application to falsely represent that he had made a substantial, personal capital contribution to the bank, authorities said.

After the application for TARP money was rejected on Feb. 24, 2009, Antonucci did a media interview in March 2009 in which he said the bank withdrew its application because of “issues” with the TARP program and a desire to avoid “market perception” that bad banks take TARP money, the complaint said.

Federal authorities say Antonucci actually wanted to obtain millions of dollars for his own use, in part so he could obtain a controlling interest in the bank.

The complaint accused him of approving approximately $8.5 million worth of overdrafts at the bank to companies controlled by a coconspirator who was a close associate of his.

In return, the coconspirator, whose identity was not released, allowed Antonucci to use his private plane at least 10 times for personal trips, including flights to Phoenix to attend the Super Bowl, to Augusta, Ga., to watch the Master’s golf tournament, and to Florida to visit a relative. He also used it for a flight to Panama, according to the complaint.

In another scheme, Antonucci was accused of defrauding the pastors of the Calvary Springs Chapel in Coral Springs, Fla., of $103,940 by telling them the investment could earn them more than $600,000 in a few weeks time, the complaint says. Authorities said the $103,940 instead was deposited into an account owned by Antonucci and divided between himself and another coconspirator.

James T. Hayes Jr., special agent-in-charge of the New York Office of the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the probe began after his agency received a tip from its office in Ecuador that someone was interested in doing something illegal with Antonucci.

Antonucci’s lawyer, Charles Stillman, said he plans to study the complaint “and consider an appropriate response to the charges.” He said Antonucci would plead not guilty at a future court appearance.

Antonucci was freed on $2 million bail after a brief court appearance Monday.

 
 
 
 
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