San Luis Trust Bank facing threat of seizure

February 14, 2011

By LISA RIZZO and KAREN VELIE

San Luis Trust Bank (SLTB) may soon be added to the FDIC’s list of failed banks unless it pulls itself out of a “critically undercapitalized” state, according to federal regulators.

The bank’s regulator, the Federal Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS), says SLTB, which has only one branch, located at 1001 Marsh St., has until tomorrow, Feb. 15, to be recapitalized, according to a “prompt corrective action directive.”

In November, the OTS ordered the bank to submit a restoration plan detailing how it would become at least “adequately capitalized.”

On Wednesday, the OTS issued the “prompt corrective action directive” and denied SLTB’s restoration plan which was submitted more than a month past the original deadline.

In the directive, the OTS warned the institution that it had until Friday, Feb. 11, to submit a plan to be recapitalized by Feb. 15 through a merger, an acquisition or an investor in order to prevent seizure.

It is unknown whether the bank will meet the deadline or whether the OTS will extend more time. The bank’s operators and chairmen of the board have not returned CalCoastNews calls for comment.

Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) spokesperson Greg Hernandez of Washington, D.C. says “the OTS guidelines are not necessarily hard and fast rules. Sometimes banks can get more time. It’s up to the regulator to decide.”

Generally, decisions and activity leading up to a merger, acquisition, major investment or federal seizure are kept confidential.

The FDIC says it could step in to broker a deal between the troubled bank and a separate institution to assume its assets at a discount. The FDIC may be appointed as the receiver and would insure checking accounts with less than $250,000 per depositor.

In the directive, the OTS ordered SLTB to fully cooperate with the FDIC and any efforts to “avoid a loss” which includes “permitting FDIC to provide otherwise confidential information to third parties to facilitate the liquidation or other resolution of the Institution in anticipation of the possible appointment of FDIC as conservator, receiver, or other legal custodian.”

SLTB stock had fallen from a 52-week high of 99 cents a share to Friday’s 14 cents a share. Five years ago the stock was trading at more than $15 a share.

Since SLTB’s inception in 1999, six formal enforcement actions have been filed against the bank. Based in Washington D.C., the OTS is a bureau of the U.S. Department of Treasury and is the primary regulator of federal saving institutions, including SLTB.

In 2001, following a lengthy examination, the OTS determined SLTB had engaged in unsafe and unsound acts and practices. The OTS and the bank signed a 15-page agreement in November, 2001, attempting to bring the struggling institution back into compliance.

A week after that action, the OTS fined Brad Lyon, the bank’s chief financial officer, $1,000 for submitting inaccurate financial information. Lyon has not returned CalCoastNew’s call for comment.

Then, in 2006, two bank employees received civil fines for their business practices and the OTS demanded the bank enter into another supervisory agreement.

The OTS fined former SLTB director Richard Wells $5,000 for failing to disclose his involvement in a property with a bank customer. Well’s father, SLTB Senior Vice President Eric Wells, was fined $20,000 for “breaching his duty of loyalty to the institution and advancing his own interest and the interest of others with whom he had an ongoing business relationship at the expense of SLTB” and for benefiting from a loan he made in violation of banking laws.

In November, 2009, regulators issued a cease-and-desist order for SLTB stating the bank had ‘engaged in unsafe and unsound banking practices which resulted in deteriorating asset quality, poor risk management practices, and inadequate oversight and supervision of the lending function at the bank.”

Regulators required the bank to strengthen its capital ratios, maintain adequate short-term and long-term liquidity, revise its policies for modifying loans and reduce its level of classified assets — typically loans for which payments are not being received on time.

Numerous loans made to San Luis Obispo County projects and developments may have compromised the bank’s fiscal integrity.

Among them, bank loans made to notorious North County developer Kelly Gearhart, which appeared inadequately secured, may have created significant problems for SLTB.

Gearhart’s 2009 federal bankruptcy debt filing include $1.7 million owed to SLTB. Bank officials allegedly allowed Gearhart to move money in and out of his 401K without the required penalties.

In 2009, a few days before Gearhart fled for Ohio, he asked his common-law stepmother Marion Warner to meet him at SLTB to sign papers regarding an investment she had made in one of his developments, Warner said.

Gearhart and Warner went into SLTB and while Warner thought she was signing documents protecting her investment, she, in fact, was assuming responsibility for several of Gearhart’s outstanding loans, totaling about $559,000.

Bank officials approved the loans even though the loan application claimed that Warner, unemployed for more than two years, was an employee of a defunct Gearhart development company.

“Kelly made fraudulent statements to SLTB,” Warner said. “I took $500,000 of Kelly’s debt.”

The bank foreclosed on Warner’s loans and home earlier this year with an order to vacate within a few months.

Warner said the eviction had been voided after one of her neighbor’s made a bid to purchase the property from the bank. The neighbor planned to allow Warner to stay on the property for a modest rent.

“Eric Wells (bank senior vice president) pulled down my driveway, and said that everything was signed and I could stay,” Warner said.

A month later, Warner found a five-day eviction notice taped on her gate. She had until Sunday to figure out what to do with her two horses, six dogs, numerous cats and a handful of chickens.

Adding to its troubles, SLTB has been defending itself in a lawsuit that alleges fraud and false promises, according to a tentative ruling issued by Judge Charles Crandall on Feb. 7.

At issue is a June 2010 foreclosure and a San Luis Obispo project. The plaintiffs, Foothill Real Estate Investments, LLC and Patrick Aurignac claim the bank induced them into developing a Foothill Blvd. property based on a promise that it would ultimately provide the construction loan to complete the project.

The complaint alleges the bank reneged on the deal that would clear the bank’s liens on the property and extend a construction loan in exchange for a $3 million deed of trust.


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20 Comments

  1. The comments read like the sitcom ali baba and the forty thieves. As for financial crimes and fraud there has never been a time in history that all the regulatory agencies intend to catch and prosecute all and at the present rate that’s four new prisons in the US. The Lyons should have never been aloud to establish this bank anyway being they came out of First Bank of San Luis with extreme controversy. A long time facilitator of this was James Avery who helped charter the bank and then sat as Chairman of the Audit Committee. bankalchemist.

    (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
  2. spartan57 says:

    does anyone else have a gut feeling that ms warner is no angel in this whole gearhart matter? does knowing about an arson and not going to the police or insurance company , make one an accessory after the fact?watching her video interview makes me feel like somethings not quite right with this picture. gearhart certainly needs to pay for his deeds.

    (2) 4 Total Votes - 3 up - 1 down
  3. Booty JuJu says:

    Simply a continuation of the slow motion train wreck that is far from over in our community.

    A banking system, any banking system, is an act of faith: It survives only for as long as people believe it will. Banks are not managed to withstand scrutiny or doubt; they are managed to exploit blind faith. It is, always has been, and always will be a game of confidence, or put more succinctly – a con game.

    The real-estate boom had the flavor of a family lie: It was sustainable so long as it went unquestioned, and it went unquestioned so long as it appeared sustainable. After all, once the value of real estate came untethered from rents there was no value for it that couldn’t be justified. No profit that couldn’t be harvested. Yet, even in an era when capitalists went out of their way to destroy capitalism, our local bankers and hard money lenders set some kind of record for negligence and destruction.

    Yet our local financial disaster shared some things with the nations at large. It was created by the sort of men who ignore their wives’ suggestions that maybe they should stop and ask for directions, for instance. But while Wall Street males used foreign money to conquer foreign places—trophy companies in Britain, France, The Netherlands and chunks of Scandinavia—our males used local money to conquer ourselves. Left alone in a dark room with a pile of money, we decided what we really wanted to do with it was to buy SLO county. FROM ONE ANOTHER. Jesus wept. Competitiveness and adding actual value didn’t matter. We were going to get rich building houses for each other. In recognition of our spectacular stupidity, the entire local economy has dutifully collapsed.

    I believe the average SLO citizen should take it upon themselves to treat themselves to a glimpse of the guys who are supposed to be safeguarding their money and, indeed, the entire local financial well being. Or maybe not. Picture the crazy uncle sprung from the family cellar. And then there he is, on television and the Trib, insisting that the banks are “resilient” and “more than adequately capitalized” … when anyone with eyesight could see evidence of bank loans that were not merely bad but insane. Everyone in the county seems to have the notion that somewhere there are little wise old men who are in charge of the money, when in fact an actual eyes-on inspection would result in – Who the f*** was that??? Is that the guy who is in charge of the money???

    At your leisure.

    (12) 16 Total Votes - 14 up - 2 down
    • Outtathere says:

      Interesting thoughts, articulated in an interesting manner.

      Our county is a microcosm of the rest of the country, in general our problems are not unique.

      However, several of the hard money lenders (not all) in this county were somewhat unique in that so many of them were giving investor’s money away without proper collateral and oversight. While not many other counties had these issues with their lenders, a lot of investors in local hard money investors were from out of the area.

      The downfall of several who considered themselves investors, but were really speculators, were not paying attention to the fact that property values no longer had anything to do with rents or rate of return. Instead, they were watching each other and deluding themselves into believing that the values that they were assigning must be accurate since “everyone else” was paying those prices as well. That wasn’t unique to our area.

      However, I don’t think blame should be placed entirely on males. People of both genders were busy making these mistakes or helping others to make these mistakes. Karen Guth and Linda Kennedy helped to change a lot of lives.

      The point is well made that we should have looked more closely at the people we were trusting with our money.

      Maybe next time?

      (6) 8 Total Votes - 7 up - 1 down
  4. TacomaRose says:

    This is Wierd Science.

    John Ronca is the Chaiman of the San Luis Trust Bank. Ronca was also the chair of Ian Parkinson’s campaign for sheriff.

    Patrick Aurignac is related (cousin) to Parkinson through marriage and he is suing Ronca’s bank.

    Whats going on here in the happiest place in America?

    (14) 20 Total Votes - 17 up - 3 down
    • Robert1 says:

      My professional experiences with John Ronca were always way above board, from my many years of experience in the legal field John’s reputation was always stellar. And as a past stock holder and borrower from Trust Bank I don’t think he has anything to do with the problems they have now.
      In fact they probably have the problems from not enough oversight.

      (-10) 14 Total Votes - 2 up - 12 down
      • Cindy says:

        It has been my experience that unscrupulous people often deal with honest associates in an ethical fashion and save the clandestine activities for those “other associates”.

        (0) 4 Total Votes - 2 up - 2 down
    • cheseburger says:

      Way to much! I would not think or accuse Parkinson of being involved in any of the Fraud in this county, but this is what I what from this blog, more information about things that don’t add up, and that the F.B.I. doesn’t know about, example the two thugs in the black truck threatening investors of Hurst Financial, they probably bragged to some one, then Parkinson can arrest them.

      (-1) 7 Total Votes - 3 up - 4 down
      • centralcoastcoyote says:

        This topic went from talking about SLTB, to attempting to find leads about thugs in a black truck that threatened investors of hurst financial who knows how long ago. hahaha lol this blog is getting so good

        (2) 10 Total Votes - 6 up - 4 down
        • Cindy says:

          LOL, centralcoastcoyote, The cheseburger has been around a long time and probably has what some consider too much information. It just comes out at the darndest times.

          (-4) 8 Total Votes - 2 up - 6 down
    • zaphod says:

      family values!

      (-1) 1 Total Votes - 0 up - 1 down
  5. roymann says:

    5 or 6 years ago I was at a Hurst Financial annual Christmas Dinner and thank you to Investors, contractors, etc. I remember meeting a guy who was president of a newer bank in SLO, must be the bank mentioned here. He had been refinancing properties for KG. and stated he knew KG from High School and wouldn’t be offering this financing to anyone else? Smart guy, little wonder the bank is in ruin.

    (5) 11 Total Votes - 8 up - 3 down
  6. cheseburger says:

    “In 2009, a few days before Gearhart fled for Ohio, he asked his common-law stepmother Marion Warner to meet him at SLTB to sign papers regarding an investment she had made in one of his developments, Warner said.

    Gearhart and Warner went into SLTB and while Warner thought she was signing documents protecting her investment, she, in fact, was assuming responsibility for several of Gearhart’s outstanding loans, totaling about $559,000.

    Bank officials approved the loans even though the loan application claimed that Warner, unemployed for more than two years, was an employee of a defunct Gearhart development company.

    “Kelly made fraudulent statements to SLTB,” Warner said. “I took $500,000 of Kelly’s debt.”

    Well, well well, if that doesn’t surprise me in the least, Kelly Gearhart, to many a now poor man in this county has now been exposed as the most sinistral thief in California history!
    To Kelly V. Gearhart and all his fellow conspirators, you primates are among the lowest life forms on earth, now I’d like to let all the hate mongers from the last article rip you to shreds and feed their pigs with the pieces, you have ruined my 82 year old father’s grand children’s future not to mention anyone who came in contact with you and was not your allies in this horrific fraud, disclosed to the District attorney as early as 2006, relaters were calling the D.A.’s office and asking why none of these fraudulent loans to you “Gearhart” were not underwritten!

    Kelly I will not stop better just pay the Default entered by me the simple honest hard working, “you can’t ask me if your commingling funds, your not a lawyer” MAN! MORE TO COME. MANSLAUGHTER, VEHICULAR HOMICIDE, NO STATUE OF LIMITATION ON THAT, bet you wish you and your buddy Jay Miller never borrowed from a man of my convictions you piece of cra…..!

    (8) 22 Total Votes - 15 up - 7 down
    • cheseburger says:

      “Gearhart’s 2009 federal bankruptcy debt filing include $1.7 million owed to SLTB. Bank officials allegedly allowed Gearhart to move money in and out of his 401K without the required penalties.” this would also make the bank an accessory to the fraud if they knew about it, when they allowed the release of the funds, and accessory after the fact even if they didn’t! Let’s see, do I have room on my complaint for another cumulative defendant? Does, 1-100, 94,95,96, yep there’s room, your lunch meat San Luis Trust, I trust you will settle quickly when served!

      (4) 16 Total Votes - 10 up - 6 down
      • cheseburger says:

        Just to make things a little clearer,,!

        “Bank officials allegedly allowed Gearhart to move money in and out of his 401K without the required penalties.”

        Hurst Financial investors monies!

        (4) 14 Total Votes - 9 up - 5 down
        • cheseburger says:

          In closing Gearhart you are a want a be Maddoff, but my dear friend, Deter Wilcom of the F.B.I. is closing in say goodbye to sunlight! Three hots and a cot, with a 390lb cell mate named Bubba!
          You are sleeping like a baby right now, not I my enemy, I have been waiting for this article, I know much more than you gave me credit for!

          (2) 16 Total Votes - 9 up - 7 down
          • SandMan says:

            When??? Isn’t the deadline coming up very soon????????

            (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down
            • centralcoastcoyote says:

              This deadline has been coming soon for some time now, in a previous article it was mentioned that the FBI had until Feb 11 to bring charges against gearhart however that date has come and gone. I have been reading all these articles since the beginning and the more people speculate whats happening the more uneducated they are sounding. Im happy the burger is back in action that guy is comedy

              (1) 5 Total Votes - 3 up - 2 down
              • Cindy says:

                The FBI has plenty of time to bring charges against Gearhart. The Feb 11th deadline only dealt with the fact that if the FBI had found any additional assets out there that the bankruptcy creditors had rights to that it would be past the statute of limitations for them to lay claim to those assets ( after the 11th of this month).

                (5) 5 Total Votes - 5 up - 0 down
          • cheseburger says:

            I agree with Cindy there are many ways around the statute of limitations for fraud.

            (0) 2 Total Votes - 1 up - 1 down

Comments are closed.