Giving straight answers about AMB is dangerous « In our opinion | Feb. 19

Nothing against Columbia State Bank, but the Tacoma-based bank’s chief operating officer spouted the standard line during a Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce luncheon this week that American Marine Bank failed “because of its business model, not its people.”

Actually, AMB was taken over by CSB for the same reason many others are going down these days: a real estate downturn stopped borrowers from paying their loans and bad ones piled up until the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) stepped in and said you’ve got three months to collect what’s owed or we’ll shut you down. In three years, maybe, but it was obvious that wasn’t going to happen in three months.

The loans added up to about $20 million, which is about one-third of the $63 million the new owner received from the FDIC and the capital left behind by AMB. To the victors go the spoils. And what about the 450 shareholders who, through the AMB Finance Service holding company, actually owned the bank? Who’s to say? Actually, no one is saying anything to most shareholders except that the money’s all long gone.

The FDIC has sent letters to former AMB board members threatening them with civil penalties if they don’t mind their Ps and Qs. The feds know that they are to be feared and that AMB principals are upset enough to spill the beans because they didn’t get more time to collect the total amount owed for some 20 to 30 loans. The result is that shareholders – except perhaps “preferred” ones – are being told nothing by the people who essentially used to work for them.

One of the bad loans, by the way, may soon be paid off. Columbia State Bank is currently trying to sell the White Horse golf course and development in Kingston, which received a loan of about $5.6 million from AMB several years ago. The owner filed bankruptcy and the property was taken over by AMB, which CSB now holds, and may soon belong to someone else, say, maybe the Suquamish Tribe. But who’s to say?

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