Bank feels ‘betrayed’
Officials describe shock, disappointment as theft investigation continues
February 26, 2008
Steamboat Springs — Bank officials expressed shock and disappointment Monday in response to an alleged $1.2 million embezzlement from five bank account holders in Steamboat Springs.
If the arrests last week of Pamela Jean Williams and Terri Dawn Moody Fatka rocked Routt County, they also put officials at Alpine Bank, the pair’s former employer, and Bank of the West, their current one, back on their heels.
“I think there’s disappointment in being betrayed by colleagues,” said Glenn Davis, Alpine Bank’s regional president for Eagle and Routt counties.
Williams and Fatka, both 41, were arrested Thursday on suspicion of embezzling $1.2 million from Alpine Bank account holders during the past 2 1/2 years, a theft police say is the largest in recent memory. The two were arrested at the Steamboat branch of Bank of the West, where they began working as tellers in January.
Williams and Fatka were charged with two counts each of theft of more than $20,000, a Class 3 felony, and two counts each of forgery, a Class 5 felony. They were released from Routt County Jail on Thursday night on a $20,000 bond.
“All the staff and all the officers knew them pretty well,” said Scott Gordon, who was president of Alpine Bank’s Steamboat branch for eight years before leaving in July to lead the Aspen branch. “It’s a lot of emotions. You feel disappointment. You feel a range of emotions.”
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In its first response since last week’s arrests, Alpine Bank issued a statement Monday saying the alleged thefts represent uncharted waters for the company.
“In our 35-year history, nothing of quite this nature or magnitude has ever occurred previously,” the statement reads, “and while it is our sense that no perfect defense has yet been devised to deter a determined criminal, we nevertheless pledge to take whatever measures necessary to prevent this from occurring again.”
Davis said no new information has been uncovered since last week to suggest the total stolen is more than $1.2 million or that more than five customers were affected. He also said the bank has no reason to suspect anyone else was involved, but added the caveat that the bank is “in the midst of an ongoing investigation.”
Bank of the West probe
As part of the ongoing investigation, police and bank officials are exploring the possibility that Williams and Fatka also stole money from Bank of the West customers. Bank of the West spokesman John Stafford said the alleged embezzlement shocked his company, as well. The bank is considering the two innocent until proven guilty, Stafford said, but has placed them on unpaid administrative leave while it investigates.
“We have no practical reason to believe any Bank of the West customers were affected by this pair,” Stafford said from Bank of the West’s San Francisco offices. “But we certainly felt it was prudent and reasonable to place them on leave and investigate.”
Stafford described Williams and Fatka as entry-level tellers and customer service representatives who had “extremely limited access to account information.” Regardless of what the investigation turns up, Stafford said Bank of the West has the coverage to protect its customers against fraud.
“Customers need to have no fear of any financial loss,” Stafford said.
Even if fraud is uncovered at Bank of the West, the relative fiscal impact is sure to be greater for Alpine Bank. California-based Bank of the West has about 700 locations and $56 billion in assets, and it ultimately falls under the umbrella of BNP Paribas, a Europe-based financial giant with offices in 85 countries.
Regional Alpine Bank has just 36 locations and $2.2 billion in assets. Still, officials are stressing that the theft will not adversely affect Alpine Bank as a business. The $1.2 million allegedly stolen by Fatka and Williams would account for 1.6 percent of the $75 million managed by the Steamboat branch, but just 0.05 percent of the bank’s total assets.
“It’s sizable, but it’s not going to have an adverse effect on our ongoing viability by any means,” Gordon said.
Davis said the bank will reimburse customers out of its own pocket until insurers such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation offer their assistance.
Effect on the community
While officials stressed that any monetary wounds will heal, the same cannot be said for the effects the alleged crime has had on the community. Williams and Fatka are longtime Routt County residents and local high school graduates. They both are married, own homes and have children.
“It’s devastated this community,” said Vince Arroyo, Williams’ ex-husband.
Williams and Arroyo have three children, two in high school and another in college. Arroyo’s brother, Tyler Arroyo, is Fatka’s ex-husband. They have two children.
“The biggest thing is the kids because things are going to change for them,” Vince Arroyo said. “It’s going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.”
Vince Arroyo described himself as “shell-shocked.” He said the children had some trouble in school on Friday before this week’s Blues Break, but otherwise praised the encouragement received from the community.
“The support from the community has been tremendous,” he said.
Messages left Monday with the Steamboat Springs Police Department and the Routt County Sheriff’s Office were not returned. Joe DeAngelo, an investigator with the 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, said his investigation of the case has not yet begun.
Officials said last week that an investigator from the FDIC has aided local officers at the request of Alpine Bank, but officials at the FDIC’s Washington offices would not confirm their presence.
“FDIC does not comment on open and operating institutions,” FDIC spokesman David Barr said. “We do not comment or confirm whether or not we are actually in an institution conducting an investigation or even a routine examination.”
An ounce of prevention
In addition to investigating the alleged crimes of Williams and Fatka, Gordon and Davis said Alpine Bank will take a hard look at its own practices.
“We’ll make some changes to make sure that doesn’t happen in the future,” Gordon said. “We’re certainly hoping to put that chapter behind us. We’re going to learn from this experience and move forward.”
Davis said the bank has a number of measures already in place, including regular audits of its transactions by both internal and external sources. And while he agreed that additional measures likely will be considered, he added that such practices only go so far.
“No matter what protections you put in place, people who want to get you will find a way,” Davis said. “They may also have the wherewithal to cover their tracks.”
There are steps individual customers can take to spot or prevent fraud. Although it sounds simplistic, Stafford said checking bank statements and balancing checkbooks regularly will catch most fraud. Davis said customers should pay attention to and read all correspondence from their bank, no matter how tedious or excessive mailings may seem.
Both banks have fraud prevention information posted to their Web sites, http://www.alpinebank.com and http://www.bankofthewest.com. Additional information can be obtained from the FDIC at http://www.fdic.gov, and the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.ftc.gov.
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