CLEVELAND-A federal judge recently directed NCUA to provide thousands of pages of documents related to the 2010 failure of St. Paul Croatian FCU, the largest fraud in credit union history, to the biggest clamant in the liquidation.

The documents were requested by Holy Love Ministries, a tiny church in nearby Eastlake that lost $1.5 million of uninsured deposits, claiming NCUA officials assured them just days before that they could withdraw the funds as part of the liquidation process.

The Church's Allegations

In a civil suit over the claim, the tiny church alleges NCUA officials committed fraud when they told church officials a day prior to the April 2010 takeover of the $240-million CU that the church would be allowed to withdraw the funds under "hardship" rules. NCUA eventually denied the claim and paid the church the maximum $250,000 allowable under federal deposit insurance rules, leaving it with a $1.5 million loss.

The tiny church is among dozens of St. Paul Croatian depositors who were stuck holding the bag for the huge fraud, estimated to cost $170 million to resolve, after NCUA apportioned out deposit insurance payments. Other victims include: St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church in Eastlake, a loss of $150,000; Acme FCU of Eastlake, $127,000; Cascade FCU of Kent, Wash., $251,000; and Employees CU of Dallas. At least three individual members have also filed suits against NCUA saying they have lost uninsured deposits.

The church has raised numerous questions about NCUA's secretive liquidation process. Among them is the disparate treatment of institutions and individuals in the liquidation process. Individuals are permitted under federal law to layer their accounts, that is take out as many as six separate accounts of $250,000, making them eligible for as much as $1.5 million deposit coverage; while institutions are only allowed coverage on one such account-a total of $250,000.

Other Questions Raised

But also raising questions is the attempted withdrawal by the church in the days before the historic failure. The request was made by the church's representative on the St. Paul Croatian board of directors, raising the question was he privy to inside information that other members did not have access to.

NCUA argued to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio that it does not have jurisdiction over the church's claim until the church has exhausted its administrative remedies by filing an additional action under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

But the court rejected NCUA's claim last week, directing NCUA to turn over thousands of pages of documents related to the landmark fraud. NCUA and the U.S. Department of Justice have so far recovered some $10 million in the case in restitution orders and loan repayments, but Holy Love Ministries has been stymied so far in seeking a portion of the funds.

Lawyers for the church said NCUA mislead them when the church's representative on the board requested the day before the NCUA takeover to withdraw all of their funds and were told to wait until after the weekend.

Prior to an April 22, 2010 board meeting, the Holy Love representative on the board told NCUA Examiner Kim Paige he wanted to withdraw the church's deposits and was advised to wait until Monday, April 26, because the CU was being examined and the withdrawal might create a problem with the exam, according to court records. When the church representative also asked the interim CU manager to withdraw the money he was told the same thing.

The next day, NCUA called another board meeting and dismissed the entire board and put the CU into conservatorship on April 24. The agency then liquidated the CU and allowed depositors a maximum of $5,000 withdrawal. That day NCUA posted a letter saying it would consider "hardship" exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

Holy Love, which had counted on its deposits to fund a $12-million building project, requested such an exception, as the work on its building project was already well under way. But NCUA denied the requests. "The offer seems to have been misleading or fraudulent," claims the church in its court pleadings. Later, despite the April 26 NCUA letter, the church was told no such hardship exception exists.

The church says an internal NCUA report blames examiners for missing the fraud and asserts "This, in and of itself, should be sufficient to entitle Holy Love to a full refund of their monies."

Subscribe Now

Authoritative analysis and perspective for every segment of the credit union industry

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.