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Business Observer Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017 4 years ago

Prominent banker set to be released from prison

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Jerry Williams, pleaded guilty in 2012 to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and making false statements to banking regulators.

NAPLES — Jerry Williams, once one of the most celebrated bankers in Florida, could be in line for a Happy Halloween: He's scheduled to be released from federal prison Oct. 30.

The former president, CEO and chairman of Naples-based Orion Bank, Williams is coming to the end of what was originally a six-year federal prison term for his role in a widespread bank fraud case. He has most recently been housed at a residential re-entry facility in Nashville, according to a U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons website, and was previously at other facilities. Prison officials couldn't be reached for comment on what, if any, conditions Williams must adhere to or where he will live after he's released.

Williams, now 57, pleaded guilty in February 2012 to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and making false statements to banking regulators while at the helm of Orion — which grew to a $2.7 billion bank. “Williams orchestrated a complex conspiracy to fraudulently raise capital and falsify bank records in order to mislead state and federal regulators as to the bank's true financial condition,” according to a 2012 statement from the U.S. Attorney's office for the Middle District of Florida, which prosecuted Williams.

Williams, in his guilty plea agreement, admitted he conspired with other Orion executives to lend $22 million to depositors whom he knew would use the money to buy shares of Orion's stock. Regulations prohibit banks from financing the purchase of its own stock. Williams also engaged in lending practices that made non-performing loans appear to be performing loans, federal prosecutors contended.

Regulators seized Orion Bank in 2009, and Lafayette, La.-based IberiaBank assumed control of its assets and deposits. But in the early and mid-2000s, Williams was at the top of banking world. He was chairman of the Florida Bankers Association in 2006 and vice chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta in 2007. Publications that honored him include the Business Observer and American Banker.

After the scam unraveled, officials, in court and in statements, referred often to Williams' role in leading the fraud. “Williams' fraud scheme and deception of bank examiners is the type of criminal conduct that harms the safety and soundness of our banking institutions,” said Mark Bialek, Inspector General of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, in a statement after the guilty plea.

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