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$60 million settlement in federal criminal case against Wilmington Trust

The case marked a rare federal prosecution of bankers for bad real estate loans connected to investor losses in the financial crisis and its aftermath.

Wilmington Trust’s headquarters on Rodney Square in Wilmington.
Wilmington Trust’s headquarters on Rodney Square in Wilmington.Read moreJoseph N. DiStefano / Staff

Wilmington Trust Corp. agreed Tuesday to pay $60 million and help federal prosecutors with their criminal case against four of its former top executives.

As a result, the bank will avoid  a federal trial on charges it illegally concealed hundreds of millions of dollars in bad loans to developers from its own investors, bank examiners, and the TARP bailout program during the last decade's mortgage-finance crisis.

Federal prosecutors dropped criminal fraud charges against the bank and allowed M&T Bank, which agreed to buy Wilmington Trust in 2010 after the Delaware-based company was crippled by $1 billion in bad loans, to credit $16 million (plus interest) it had already paid the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle fraud charges in 2014.

M&T paid the remaining $44 million Tuesday, to be passed along to former Wilmington Trust shareholders including pension and mutual funds, du Pont family members, and ex-bank workers, among others.

If it all goes to shareholders, the $44 million totals about 48 cents a share. M&T paid $3.51 a share for Wilmington Trust when it closed the deal in 2011, a drop of more than 90 percent from its value before the financial crisis. At the time, Wilmington Trust was the largest commercial bank based in the Philadelphia Federal Reserve district.

The bad loans that brought down Wilmington Trust included more than $300 million in what one bank officer called "credit turds" — unpaid loans to insolvent developers that, according to the government's complaint, the bank failed to disclose even as it was raising badly needed capital from investors and from the federal government to cover its losses in last-ditch attempts to stay in business.

Former Wilmington Trust president Robert Harra, chief financial officer David Gibson, and bank executives Kevyn Rakowski and William North had been scheduled to go on trial on criminal fraud charges this week before U.S. District Judge Richard Andrews when the bank agreed to settle.

Andrews postponed their trial until March, saying the delay was to give the executives time to make their defense without the bank's help and with the prospect of the bank now cooperating with prosecutors who want to send them to prison. The four also face civil SEC complaints. No charges have been filed by the government against their old boss, former Wilmington Trust chief executive Ted Cecala. He and the other executives also face civil complaints by shareholders who say the bank bosses ripped them off.

Acting U.S. Attorney David C. Weiss told reporters Tuesday that the government settled without a criminal conviction of the bank because prosecutors did not want to further damage Wilmington Trust. M&T terminated 700 Wilmington Trust workers when it completed the acquisition in 2011.

Wilmington Trust was one of the few U.S. banks to face criminal charges during a period in the last decade when large commercial banks such as First Union and National City and investment banks such as Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns also were collapsing and being taken over as the value of their property-mortgage loans tumbled.

Prosecutors said Wilmington Trust substituted an aggressive sales culture for a careful credit culture. In separate prosecutions by federal attorneys in Philadelphia and Wilmington, Wilmington Trust loan officers have been convicted and imprisoned for accepting bribes for making improper loans during the bank's last years.