NYC ex-bank president apologizes as he pleads guilty in bailout fraud, agrees to cooperate

Friday, October 8, 2010

NYC ex-bank prez pleads guilty in bailout fraud

NEW YORK — The former president of a small community bank earned the distinction of being the first person convicted of ripping off the federal bailout program by pleading guilty Friday to fraud charges and admitting that he tried to grab more than $11 million in taxpayer rescue funds.

Charles Antonucci Sr., 59, of Fishkill, entered the plea in U.S. District Court to fraud, bank bribery, embezzlement and conspiracy charges. Although they carry a potential penalty of 135 years in prison, Antonucci was expected to earn leniency by cooperating with federal authorities in a continuing probe.

Antonucci was contrite and agreed to pay $11.2 million and forfeit various assets to the government. He resigned last year as president of The Park Avenue Bank, headquartered in Manhattan.

As part of the plea, Antonucci admitted that he accepted bribes to influence his decisions as president and chief executive officer of the bank.

He said he accepted gifts from customers, including $250,000 in cash and the use of private planes and luxury cars. In 2008 and 2009, he used a private plane more than 10 times to fly to Florida, Panama, Arizona and Georgia, including trips to the Super Bowl and the Masters Golf Tournament, the government said.

“For these acts, I offer no excuse,” Antonucci said. “I know what I was doing was wrong and I apologize to those I hurt financially.”

Besides the effort to steal from the bailout program, Antonucci also admitted to other crimes carried out from 2006 through 2009. He said he sometimes approved loans that he knew would benefit him personally and he directed bank employees to perform nonbank duties on his behalf.

Antonucci said he had “deep remorse for my conduct … for that harm that I have caused.”

Sentencing was tentatively set for April 8.

Prosecutors said Antonucci lied to government authorities when he claimed to have invested $6.5 million of his own money in his bank when he actually had engineered a complicated round-trip loan transaction so that the bank’s money appeared to be his own. They said he used the sham recapitalization to try to get $11 million in federal bailout funds.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a news release that the prosecution sends a message that “whether you are a bank teller or a bank president, you are not above the law.”

Antonucci was the first person charged with stealing from the bailout program when he was arrested in March and the first person to be convicted Friday, showing that “would-be wrongdoers who seek to profit criminally from this historic program will be caught, charged and brought to justice,” said Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for the financial bailouts.

Janice K. Fedarcyk, head of the FBI’s New York office, said Antonucci’s crimes included “flagrant self-dealing, but perhaps the most offensive affront to taxpayers was his admitted attempt to defraud TARP.” The program, she said, was meant to “strengthen the financial system, not line the pockets of swindlers.”

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