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Investor tosses business bank a lifeline

By   /   Monday, October 5th, 2009  /   Comments Off on Investor tosses business bank a lifeline

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While the banking crisis is still far from over, those in the Tri-Counties have a handful of indicators that things aren’t as bad as they seem.

Take Ventura County Business Bank in Oxnard. A few months ago, President and Chief Executive Gerald Lukiewski was scrambling to find capital before his FDIC-imposed December deadline. Now, since signing a stock purchase agreement with a single investor, he’s got more than enough capital to go around.

After some lawsuits and less-than-stellar numbers earlier this year, the FDIC slapped the bank with an order to raise $4   million in capital by Dec. 5. Lukiewski, who had already cut jobs, consolidated operations and adopted a private placement memorandum, found an investor willing to put in some serious capital.

“We now have significantly more than the $4 million,” he said. “The new capital should more than double our capital ratios. It’s striking how things happen as quickly as they do.”

As soon as the transaction is approved, Lukiewski said he’ll be back on top — and he’ll have some new friends with him. The investor — who would like to remain anonymous until the deal is cleared — will be represented on the bank’s board by Camarillo businessman Martin Shum, who sits on the board at St. John’s Regional Medical Center.

“Martin is very involved in the medical community, so he’ll be bringing in a medical investor to give us an edge in the medical community,” Lukiewski said.

One other place Lukiewski would like to have an edge: the courtroom. Ventura County Business Bank is doing battle on several legal fronts at the moment, and Lukiewski thinks the additional capital could persuade at least one of his opponents to settle.

“We’ve had problems with participation loans that we purchased from other banks, and we’re in court to clear those up,” he said. “Since we raised our capital, everyone can be sure that we’re sticking around.”

In October 2008, Ventura County Business Bank sued Alliance Bank of Culver City for defaulting on a loan.

“We bought a loan that was described to us as a first trust deed, and we came to find out that there was a second on it when they sold it to us,” Lukiewski said. “We said it was in default, and Alliance literally said, ‘Well, we didn’t know there was a second.’”

When it was discovered that there was a second deed of trust on the property, Lukiewski asked for his money back but was tied up in court as Alliance spiraled downward.

In February, Alliance was closed by the FDIC; it is now owned by California Bank & Trust, a unit of Salt Lake City-based Zion Bancorporation.

“Now my lawsuit is against a very healthy bank, and they want to settle with me,” said Lukiewski, who expects a settlement fairly soon.

“It isn’t pleasant, but I have a responsibility to take care of customers. I don’t like playing the bad guy, but I’m in a position where I have to raise money to make sure the bank stays viable, while I still try to help my customers stay viable. Sometimes I feel like a regulator myself.”

But regulators aren’t the bad guys, Lukiewski said. In fact, if he was a regulator, he would be doing the same thing.

“Regulators are embarrassed because of all the abuses that were going on, and so now that the horse is out of the barn, they’re trying to close the barn door,” he said. “They want to do what’s right, but they don’t want to take any risks.”

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