Two former bank executives sentenced for role in Calif. bank's failure

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Two former executives at Sonoma Valley Bank were sentenced to prison after being convicted of offenses tied to the California bank’s failure in 2010.

Sean Cutting, who had been the bank’s CEO, and Brian Melland, its former chief loan officer, were each sentenced to eight years and four months in prison, according to a Monday press release from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Tarp. The sentencing follows a multi-year investigation by several federal and state enforcement agencies.

Cutting and Melland were convicted in December for crimes that included bank fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, falsifying bank records, lying to regulators and conspiracy.

David Lonich, former lawyer for Bijan Madjlessi, a real estate developer who died in a car accident in 2014, was also sentenced to six years and eight months in prison for similar offenses.

It was determined that the defendants were involved in schemes to defraud financial institutions, including Sonoma Valley, which opened in 1988 and had $337 million in total assets when it failed.

The fraud and other crimes caused over $47 million in taxpayer losses. The crimes also cost the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. about $39 million and the Treasury Department about $8.7 million. Sonoma Valley investors also suffered losses.

A federal investigation found that the bank loaned Madjlessi more that $35 million for real estate projects, or roughly $25 million more than the legal lending limit. To hide the high concentration, Cutting and Melland recommended issuing multi-million dollar loans to straw borrowers knowing that the proceeds would go to Madjlessi and his companies.

Melland was also convicted of receiving a $50,000 bribe from Madjlessi.

“The defendants’ crimes directly caused the failure of a once-beloved community bank,” Alex Tse, acting U.S. attorney, said in the release. “Senior bank executives and the corrupt attorneys who help them must always be held accountable for threatening the safety and soundness of federally insured banks, as today’s significant sentences reaffirm.”

“Today’s sentencing holds senior bank executives and an attorney accountable for their years of deception to orchestrate multi-million-dollar fraud and for their abuse of positions of trust,” said FDIC Inspector General Jay Lerner. “We remain vigilant to investigate such fraud schemes that undermine the integrity of financial institutions, and we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to bring to justice those who commit such offenses and breach their duties.”

Sonoma Valley was bought by Westamerica Bank.

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