Thursday, January 09, 2014

US Century Bank deal goes bust … for the second time … will there be a third or is it time, finally, for the feds to step in? by gimleteye

The insider piggy-bank founded by Latin Builders Association chiefs Ramon Rasco -- also, of the Homestead Air Force Base fiasco -- and Sergio Pino -- of a cratered house building empire and abdicated king of suburban sprawl -- is desperately seeking new capital. Eye On Miami has tracked the fortunes of the bank and its connections to campaign cash and influence that propelled Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio to the forefront of right wing Florida politics. (Go to our archive, under "US Century Bank", for past posts.)

The Miami Herald did its level best to promote the bank. Its editors and publisher, organized through Linkd-In like connections through Greenberg Traurig, the insider land use and zoning black hats for decades, formed a virtual cartel in support of sprawl. It wasn't enough of a cartel, though, for Sergio Pino's tastes.

In the mid-2000's (the date maybe can be provided by a past or present reporter who was there at the time), the Herald entertained an extraordinary event in its newsroom. Pino and Armando Codina were granted, by the publisher, an opportunity to address the journalists along the line of "explaining" how the newspaper's coverage was too hostile to their industry. A pep talk for sprawl, and by extension, the fortunes of a local bank -- US Century -- that was straight-out stoned on the fumes of the housing boom.

Among many low points, it certainly ranked as perhaps the lowest point in the history of the newspaper. (The lowest point was former Miami Dade County Chairman Art Teele blowing his brains out in the lobby of the newspaper. For all the media's focus on the inexplicable and "erratic behavior" of Teele, the bright fact is that Teele's paranoia was built on a political career fighting against the various influences and schemes of the Latin Builders Association, including that privatization of the Homestead Air Force Base that he strongly opposed.)

US Century Bank lent an extraordinary amount of money to bank board directors to purchase land at speculative values at the edge of the Everglades, outside the Urban Development Boundary. The play was always for farmland, where zoning could be converted cheaply in comparison to the zero lot line housing that followed along in its place. To be fair to the Latin Builders, lead by Pino and Rasco, they were slip-streaming behind the profit model of massive sprawl developed by Lennar, Miami's only homegrown, Anglo-owned Fortune 500 homebuilder.)

EOM frequently reported on the bank's ridiculous metrics (Loan ratios to insiders) required by federal banking regulations -- not reported by the Herald, of course. Nor did the Herald ever report that many of the bank's branches were leased on real estate at highly inflated values that was also owned by board directors.

As objectors and leaders of the battle against more suburban sprawl in Miami-Dade, US Century Bank was the juggernaut that erased all possibility of civil exchange and compromise on the future of the county at the Miami-Dade County Commission. What we call "the unreformable majority" were squarely in the US Century Bank court. (The basketball stadium at FIU -- the most important sprawl anchor in West Dade) bears the bank's name.

For the pain and suffering of civic activists, there are no tears shed for the cratered fortunes of the bank. Most of the original founding directors have resigned. In December 2013, Ramon Rasco -- in anticipation of the year-end transaction with a new tranche of insiders heralded by the Herald -- thew in the towel as chairman of the board.

But the transaction did not close by December 31, as required by the prospective deal makers. The Herald is an unreliable source of news on reasons why, as it has been since the beginning. Who got cold feet? Why?

On the debit side of the ledger: a lawsuit by dissenting shareholders that is still in play, over-inflated values on remaining insider loans for that land at the edge of the county that fueled so much nonsense at county commission meetings over many years; with Natacha Seijas, Joe Martinez, and Pepe Diaz fronting for their "friends of family" at US Century. There is also a rumor of federal penalties for money laundering. And then there is the fact that US Century Bank has been kept afloat only thanks to the largesse of the taxpayer: that would be you and me.

US Century Bank, whose founding directors are Republican to the core and presumably in favor of markets free from government regulation, were saved by $50 million that the bank still owes the US Treasury. The amount of capital that the bank's new investors will be required to put up, depends on how successfully they can weasel out paying back you and me. The bank's founders want to make off with the money; that is to say, they want the TARP money to disappear as a debt obligation.

In all its press releases, US Century Bank is unrelenting in its conviction that the bank is an upstanding member of the community. Well, they do have a (declining) deposit base of nearly $1 billion. We guess US Century Bank's depositors read Eye On Miami in inverse proportion to the percentage of bank directors who do.

US Century Bank continues to lose money, and who will put more money into a money-losing bank? Probably a bank that needs the branches to expand its footprint in Miami-Dade; one that is agnostic to our non-financial concerns. That would be all banks. Non-financial, except that not one shareholder associated with the bank should be allowed to walk away with a deal until every last cent of taxpayer money is repaid.

Here is one way of interpreting US Century Bank's record, if you are a Republican banker or supporter like US Senator Marco Rubio (whose mortgage was issued by US Century), you get to pound the table daily about the failure of federal regulations and federal government, but you don't also get to steal taxpayer money via an industry bailout that chose winners and losers like US Century.

We wish the city's daily newspaper had done its job, reporting the real story of the 2000's building boom and bust and the role that insiders played in distorting public policies and government to speed our way to economic and financial wreckage. It puts EOM and our readers in the position as observers of the dust rising from its broken walls and busted foundation.


Al Crespo said...

Is there even one skanky, lousy deal that was crafted to screw over the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County that the Miami-Herald hasn't been for, or in bed with the scammers?

Truly, there is a serious book here about how a supposed major American newspaper acted as little more than a shill for gangsters, scammers, schemers and corrupt politicians.

Maybe it's time for all the local bloggers to really mount a campaign to try and get our readers to quit buying the hard copy of the paper as a way to help put them out of business PDQ.

Anonymous said...

Al, does anybody really read the Herald in hard copy anymore? I'm a hard newspaper kind of guy. I continue to get the WSJ and NYT each day, but it's been about a decade since I gave up on the Herald. They have long ceased providing editorial content.

The demise of a once-great newspaper has been hard to watch.

Al Crespo said...

Last I recall the number of hard copies sold was somewhere around 130,000 for the Herald and around 55,000 for El Nuevo Herald.

I think that anything less than 100,000 copies would take it out of the realm of being considered a major newspaper.

Anonymous said...

US Century Bank? Loans to insiders? Non-performing loans? How much do the insiders and board members owe the bank? Anyone investigating?

Anonymous said...

Ridiculous article. Sounds like a lot of speculation with minimal facts along with a hint of bias. The bank suffered with the real estate downfall and mismanagement but it has made every effort to recuperate thereafter. According to reports on the south Florida business journal, the bank is in a much better state. They look to be moving in the right direction and that is good news for everyone. I find it hard to believe that they will not get new investors. There has to be a reason why they've had 2 offers in 2 years. There must be potential in there for immense growth.

Anonymous said...

Everything in this blog posting about US Century is correct. Ask insiders and they will tell you all about it. The bank was corrupt from its inception. The board are criminals using the deposits as a housing and political slush fund. Why this is not the NUMBER ONE business story in Miami is a sad tale about how the "civic elite" use public resources for their own profit. The bank was the new public piggy bank for Sergio Pino since the airport is harder to plunder.

Bill said...

Couple of things: First, it would have been nice if you had provided some kind of source for your info for the "extraordinary event" in the newsroom. Where did you get that? Two former staffers I've talked to remember no such event.

Second, since one of the commenters speculated (incorrectly) on the Herald's print circulation, I thought I'd provide a link that explains exactly what the Herald's current daily circulation is. It's less than 100,000 daily.

Latest Herald circulation figures.

Anonymous said...

Loans to insiders. How much do these insiders owe US Century Bank? How many loans are non-performing?