GREENVILLE — A prominent retired Upstate-based banker whose departing pay has been questioned by the governor and at least one South Carolina congressman doesn't want to be an obstacle to his former company getting federal bailout funds, his attorney said.
Attorney William "Billy" Wilkins told The Greenville News this week that his client, Mack Whittle, is willing to discuss with Treasury Department officials the $18 million retirement pay package he got when he left The South Financial Group Inc. of Greenville last month.
Gov. Mark Sanford and 4th Congressional District Rep. Bob Inglis, both Republicans, asked Treasury officials to review Whittle's retirement pay. Sanford has criticized the government's plan to stabilize the U.S. financial system, especially when companies getting money have executives who are getting "golden parachutes" despite poor financial performance.
Wilkins said that was not the case with Whittle, who negotiated his retirement package from the company he founded in the 1980s before the federal government unveiled its Troubled Asset Relief Program in September.
"If anything, he got nothing more than that to which he was entitled to, pursuant to his employment contract negotiated several years ago," said Wilkins, the former chief judge of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Wilkins said Treasury officials knew about Whittle's retirement package when The South Financial Group received preliminary approval earlier this month on its application for $347 million as part of the federal bailout program.
Still, Whittle said in a Nov. 12 letterto Treasury officials that he was willing to discuss his pay "if the only item standing in the way of TSFG's receipt of a TARP capital allocation is my retirement agreement."
Treasury Department spokeswoman Jennifer Zuccarelli said Wednesday the agency does not comment on whether a company has requested bailout funds. But she said a company must agree to adhere to certain executive pay requirements before the government will invest money in that business.
Whittle, a University of South Carolina graduate, formed in 1986 what would later become The South Financial Group with about a dozen employees.
The company is now the largest bank owner headquartered in South Carolina. It has more than $14 billion in assets and 180 branch offices in the Carolinas and Florida.
The South Financial Group's Carolina First unit has eight retail offices in the Charleston region. Three years ago the bank agreed to pay $2 million for the naming rights for the newly opened basketball arena at the College of Charleston.
It was a trying year for Whittle and for investors of his former company, which has been battered by sharp losses stemming primarily from troubled real estate loans it made in Florida. Shares of the company are off 77 percent from their 52-week high of $18.61. The stock closed Wednesday at $4.25.