Former bank executives sentenced to prison for fraud

Two former executives of the only financial institution criminally charged in connection with the federal bank bailout program were sentenced to prison Wednesday for misleading investors and federal regulators about the bank's troubled condition in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Former Wilmington Trust chief credit officer William North, 59, was sentenced to 4½ years in prison, while former controller Kevyn Rakowski, 65, was sentenced to three years. North must also pay a $100,000 fine.

The sentencings came two days after former Wilmington Trust president Robert Harra Jr. and former chief financial officer David Gibson were both sentenced to six years in prison and ordered to pay fines of $300,000 each.

The defendants were convicted on all counts in May after a six-week trial. Prosecutors said they deliberately hid the truth about Wilmington Trust's massive amount of past-due commercial real estate loans before the bank was hastily sold while teetering on the edge of collapse. In the fourth quarter of 2009, for example, Wilmington Trust officials reported only $10.8 million in commercial loans as 90 days or more past due, concealing more than $316 million in past-due loans subject to an internal "waiver" practice for reporting purposes.

The century-old bank, founded by members of the du Pont family, imploded despite receiving $330 million from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Lawyers for all four defendants plan to appeal the convictions. They will argue at a hearing next month that the defendants should be allowed to remain free on bail until the appeals are resolved, a process that could take a year or more.

Unlike Harra and Gibson, North and Rakowski chose to address the court before being sentenced.

"I continue to have faith in our judicial system. As a proud American, I respect the process and the verdict," said North, whose supporters were so numerous that officials set up a closed-circuit television in another courtroom.

U.S. District Judge Richard Andrews took note of North's support in the community, his personal characteristics and his work ethic.

"While banking is not in your future, it appears that you have a lot of skills that could be helpful," the judge told North. "You made a big mistake here ... but it's not your usual self. So, I wish you well in the future."

Rakowski apologized to Wilmington Trust employees and shareholders affected by the bank's demise but said she never intended to hurt anyone.

"I wish I had questioned much more thoroughly the practices of past due loans," she said. "I should have taken a more active role in correctly addressing the issue.... I am truly sorry that anyone was harmed throughout any of this. That's something I have to live with."

Defense attorneys requested mercy for Rakowski, who is dealing with several health issues. Her husband, to whom she donated one of her kidneys several years ago, died in September.

"I know in my heart that the stress of all this is what brought on his death. That is also something that I have to live with," Rakowski said.

Prosecutors agreed that North and Rakowski were less culpable than Harra and Gibson, but they said both deserved prison time.

"Defendant North, perhaps more than anyone, was uniquely situated to put an end to the waiver practice. ... He knew it was a problem, he knew it was wrong, and he did nothing about it," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Lesley Wolf.

Internal concerns about Wilmington Trust's loan portfolio surfaced as early as 2007, when North indicated that the number of waived loans was too high and that bank officials needed to get the situation under control to avoid issues with examiners, auditors and executive management. North continued sending warnings about shoddy handling of troubled loans, but Wolf noted that he continued to approve waivers "with his eyes wide open."

After an October 2009 meeting to discuss matured loans and "how to make them go away" by year's end, bank officials decided on temporarily extending more than 800 commercial loans worth $1.3 billion. North sent an email to Harra in December 2009 referring to certain loans as "credit turds."

Rakowski, responsible for all of the bank's accounting matters, lied along with the other defendants about the bank's loan practices even after federal officials found serious problems during a 2009 bank examination, said prosecutor Jamie McCall.

"She wasn't naive when she did this," McCall said.

Meanwhile, before its 2011 fire sale to M&T Bank, Wilmington Trust raised $287 million in a 2010 stock offering, intended in part to help repay the TARP funds, while concealing the truth about its shaky financial condition from investors.

Wilmington Trust Corp., which was also criminally charged in the case, reached a $60 million settlement with prosecutors last year on the eve of a scheduled trial. The agreement included a civil forfeiture of $44 million and $16 million previously paid by Wilmington Trust to the Securities and Exchange Commission in a related lawsuit.

In a separate civil action, a federal judge last month approved a settlement in which Wilmington Trust agreed to pay $200 million cash to settle a shareholder lawsuit alleging that the bank fraudulently concealed billions of dollars in bad loans. Auditing firm KPMG agreed to pay an additional $10 million as part of the settlement.