The U.S. government lost a bundle after it seized Atlantic Bank & Trust three years ago.
This week, it sued some of the Charleston-based lender's former decision-makers in an effort to collect part of the bill.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is seeking to recover more than $9.2 million in damages that it said it has absorbed after it took ownership of the failed bank in June 2011.
The agency filed a lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court naming seven former directors, including two executive officers, for negligence and breach of fiduciary duty.
The FDIC alleges the ex-board members and executives are personally liable for approving nearly two dozen real estate loans without properly vetting the borrowers. It is seeking a jury trial.
"The subject transactions violated the bank's loan policy as well as prudent underwriting and lending practices," the regulatory agency said in its complaint.
The 52-page lawsuit centers on 22 loans totaling $18.7 million that were approved between June 2008 and April 2009, when the real estate and banking industries were reeling from the last recession.
The former executives named in the complaint are Hal E. Cobb, the founding president and CEO, and Mark J. Barone, the chief credit officer at the time. They left Atlantic Bank in 2008 and 2010, respectively.
The other defendants are all Charleston-area residents who were on the bank's board and loan committees during the 11-month period: John T. Chakeris, Brent A. Case, Charles T. Cole, Margaret L. Hines and Darrell L. Owenby.
Attorney Thomas Tisdale, who represents Cobb, said he had no comment Tuesday.
Mary Gill, who represents Barone and the five outside board members, issued a written statement Monday.
"These individuals proudly served this community as directors of Atlantic Bank and Trust," the statement said. "They faithfully fulfilled their responsibilities and at all times acted in the best interest of the bank. With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, the FDIC seeks to hold these former directors personally liable solely related to loans that went bad as a result of the recent severe economic recession. This is patently wrong and we look forward to demonstrating in court that the FDIC's claims are without merit."
The FDIC takes a different view. It said in its lawsuit that from the time the bank opened its doors at 152 East Bay St. in February 2007, its management "implemented an aggressive growth strategy driven by increases in high-risk commercial real estate ... raw land, and land-development loans."
"At all relevant times the defendants knew the real estate market in the bank's lending area was declining," according to the complaint.
The loans singled out in the lawsuit ranged from $100,000 for foreclosure purchases to $3.2 million for a group that was investing in 306 acres of undeveloped land.
The complaint includes detailed descriptions of each soured transaction and various "glaring red flags."
The FDIC alleged bank officials approved loans "without adequately analyzing the creditworthiness of the borrowers and guarantors, without establishing that the borrowers' proposed real estate projects were feasible or likely to result in repayment, without establishing proper and/or adequate terms of repayment, without identifying any reasonably reliable and adequate sources of repayment, and without adhering to prudent underwriting standards."
New management took over Atlantic Bank by early 2010, but by then regulators were keeping close watch. The Office of Thrift Supervision issued a "cease-and-desist" supervisory order against the lender in early 2011 after a mid-2010 examination uncovered "unsafe and unsound" practices.
Specifically, the OTS said the bank had inadequate levels of capital, earnings and contingency funds. It also said the lender was carrying an excessive amount of problem loans, most of them stemming from real estate deals that had gone bad.
A plan to rescue Atlantic Bank faltered. Deep-pocketed financial backers at one point proposed to inject $405 million into the business, but regulators never approved the deal.
Atlantic Bank was added to the FDIC list of "problem" institutions in early 2011. It became the first Charleston-based bank to fail in nearly two decades when federal officials swooped in at the close of business on June 3 of that year.
The FDIC said its projected loss from the collapse of Atlantic Bank was $43.2 million as of this week, or nearly $7 million higher than the original estimate.
Reach John McDermott at 937-5572
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. pasted notices at Atlantic Bank’s branches to alert customers about the bank’s failure on June 3, 2011.×
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