Politicians, community leaders vouch for convicted bank exec

Former governors, lawmakers, business and community leaders, and a former Philadelphia Phillies owner are among scores of Delawareans vouching for a disgraced bank president facing years in prison for fraud.

Former Wilmington Trust president Robert Harra Jr. and three other bank officials face sentencing this month after being convicted of misleading regulators and investors about the bank's troubled condition before it was hastily sold in 2011. The century-old bank imploded despite receiving $330 million from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Attorneys for all four defendants filed lengthy sentencing memoranda this week seeking leniency for their clients.

A court filing Friday shows that those vouching for Harra include former Democratic Gov. Jack Markell, former Republican governor and congressman Mike Castle, and former Phillies owner Ruly Carpenter III.

Also seeking leniency for Harra are former Delaware Chief Justice E. Norman Veasey, former Delaware National Guard commander Gen. Frank Vavala, and former state economic development director Alan Levin.

Many of the character reference letters cite Harra's years of service for local charities and community groups such as the United Way, Salvation Army and Ronald McDonald House.

"I believe that justice will best be served by allowing Mr. Harra to continue his distinctive record of public service," Markell wrote.

Rick Jensen, a conservative radio talk show host in Wilmington, urged not just leniency for Harra, but "freedom."

"If he tells me he had no knowledge of any wrongdoings, I will go to my grave believing him. ... He and his family have suffered enough through this agony; an agony he and his family do not deserve," Jensen wrote.

Harra and former Wilmington Trust chief financial officer David Gibson are to be sentenced on Dec. 17. Former chief credit officer William North and former controller Kevyn Rakowski will be sentenced two days later.

A federal jury convicted the four former executives on all charges in May after a six-week trial. Prosecutors alleged that in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the defendants misled regulators and investors about Wilmington Trust's massive amount of past-due commercial real estate loans, which left it teetering on the edge of collapse.

The bank itself was the only financial institution to be criminally charged in connection with the federal bank bailout program. It reached a $60 million settlement with prosecutors in 2017 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.

Meanwhile, court filings indicate that Harra and Gibson face nine to 11 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, while North and Rakowski face seven to nine years. It was unclear whether they would receive any prison time, however. Defense attorneys are seeking probation for their clients. They also are asking that they be allowed to remain free pending resolution of their appeals, a process that could take a year or more.

Prosecutors oppose allowing the defendants to remain free on bail pending appeal. The judge on Friday ordered attorneys to submit written filings on the issue pending a possible court hearing in late January.

Even if they are sentenced to prison, the defendants will be allowed at least two months, possibly more, before they have to report to prison, according to a court filing.