The fallen financial giants that wrote off billions in bad loans in the last financial crisis occupy a still-unquiet corner of the nation's corporate graveyard.
Remember Wachovia Corp., previously First Union? The North Carolina company was the dominant lender in Philadelphia, operator of the major bank branch network, and namesake of our civic arena.
Chief executive Ken Thompson paid himself tens of millions in his expansive years, spent tens of billions on takeovers, and liked to tell lower-ranking managers they were easily replaceable.
Wachovia vanished - puff! - after writing down $37 billion in loans and acquisitions that weren't worth what its bosses had said they were. It was grabbed in its weakness by a more careful company, Wells Fargo, at a fraction of its former value.
Wachovia wasn't alone. See also former Top 10 banks such as National City and Washington Mutual and the giant write-downs that cost bosses their jobs at Citigroup and Bank of America. Their former executives have mostly gone on to run investment funds. Live and learn!
Why have things gone so differently for those who presided over what was outwardly a similar collapse, at Wilmington Trust Corp., formerly the Philadelphia Federal Reserve District's largest bank?
Wilmington Trust also blew up in the crisis, and was acquired for a shadow of its previous value, shedding hundreds of hometown jobs, after Fed examiners found that its bad loans were far greater than it admitted. Though it was nothing like Wachovia's or Wall Street's scale.
Unlike their Wall Street peers, most of Wilmington Trust's top people have had to hire expensive defense lawyers to fight federal criminal charges that could put them away for years if they are convicted.
In the latest series of cases brought by federal prosecutors, U.S. Attorney for Delaware Charles Oberly on Aug. 5 issued a superseding indictment accusing three of the bank's former C-level executives and its ex-controller of hiding more than $300 million in loans that weren't getting paid so the bank would look as if it were still in good shape.
The indictment says they conspired to conceal these losses from the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and the investors whom the bank had lured in a final, desperate capital-raising ploy that lost $200 million for suckers who trusted Wilmington Trust.
One top bank officer who has not been indicted is their old boss, former chief executive and chairman Ted Cecala. "Our investigation is continuing," U.S. attorney spokeswoman Kim Reeves told me.
Why Wilmington Trust, and not other banks? "Bankers across the nation were faced with declining economic conditions and rising past-due loans, and told the truth about those loans and losses. Bankers at Wilmington Trust did not," Christy Romero, head of the special inspector general for TARP, said in a statement.
Actually, Romero's group - SIGTARP - has helped persuade federal prosecutors to throw the book at a few other troubled-bank CEOs.
Mark Conner, president of FirstCity Bank in Georgia, got 12 years in federal prison for approving loans that secretly benefited him.
Edward Woodard, CEO at Bank of the Commonwealth in Virginia, got 23 years for giving developers sweetheart loans and disguising the bank's financial troubles.
Those banks were, like Wilmington Trust, relatively small. "SIGTARP has a strong record, but the office has mainly taken down community bankers, not Wall Street titans," the Washington Post noted in 2013.
Were bosses at big failed banks more honest? Or better lawyered?
Prosecutor Oberly's statement on the indictments made a different point: Wilmington Trust's collapse "resulted in significant harm to investors and losses to the Delaware community," presumably including the bank's du Pont founders.
If the big Wall Street banks also had concentrated local shareholders, instead of passive index and pension funds, would prosecutors have gone after them, too?
I asked banker-turned-investor Kirk Wycoff, of Philadelphia bank investors Patriot Financial Partners, whether the acts attributed to Wilmington Trust bosses sound typical, or extra egregious.
The bank looks like "an outlier," Wycoff says. "Most people, particularly in that next layer [of managers] right below the C-suite, have a very good moral compass. They understand what a good loan is, and isn't." They live with "hard rules," he added.
"Every loan is a good loan - the day you make it," Wycoff told me. "A borrower needs to be repaying the bank every month. When you can't, you need to be realistic about your course of action."