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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

‘Robin Hood’ banker gets 63 months for fraud in Illinois

First Security Trust & Savings Bank loan officer Jeffrey Gonsiewski, pleaded guilty in August to one count of federal bank fraud, was sentenced to 63 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo on Tuesday.

The U.S. Government last summer had accused the 56-year-old high school graduate of changing loan terms or arranging loans to be made in a scheme that ultimately caused the Elmwood Park-based lender, part of the Wirtz family empire, to lose more than $5.5 million.

Some monies have since been recovered, so Gonsiewski now has been ordered to pay nearly $5.2 million in restitution. On Jan. 20 he’ll report to a still-unspecified prison.
Gonsiewski had admitted that he changed the terms of at least 100 loans for more than 50 struggling borrowers to make it appear that their payments were current when in fact they were overdue. He’d change due dates to a later time period, or monthly payments to quarterly ones, or principal-and-interest payments to interest-only payments.

At least once, he wrote off $100,000 in interest owed by one borrower. Or he’d loan more money even when the borrowers didn’t have sufficient collateral.

In documents filed Monday with the court, Gonsiewski’s lawyer, Terrence LeFevour, said the crime on his client’s part was “an idiotic attempt to assist his clients, hoping that with extensions of their loans by deceit, eventually these clients would” repay the bank when the economy would improve and the property would be sold.

“As stupid as his plan can be judged, he never sought to profit from it,” his lawyer wrote, adding that he “never took one cent from anybody.”

Gonsiewski, who after spending more than 30 years at the bank now works as a caterer’s helper and a stock boy and also recently as a delivery driver, told the judge before his sentencing that he was “truly sorry.”

“I really only had good intentions,” a bearded, balding and bespecled Gonsiewski said softly. “I spent 34 years doing a job I loved.” He said he has also apologized to family and friends, particularly his wife, Beth, who was one of only a handful of people to attend the sentencing.

If Gonsiewski was indeed helping troubled bank borrowers, few if any showed up to express their appreciation during his sentencing in a U.S. District Court in Chicago. Both Jeff and Beth declined to comment afterward. Beth, with short hair and wearing a black suit and white shirt, retained her composure throughout the proceedings, as did Jeff.

A spokesman for the Wirtz family bank, Guy Chipparoni, was also in attendance.

In the courtroom, the government’s lawyer said Gonsiewski carried out his scheme from September 2004 to February 2009.

In a sentencing hearing that lasted about 45 minutes, the topic of Gonsiewski’s motive came up frequently.

Jackie Stern, the government lawyer, told the judge that she still isn’t positive what Gonsiewski’s motive was, speculating that perhaps he wanted “more authority” or “revenge” or felt unappreciated. The government uncovered no evidence that Gonsiewski personally profited from the scheme, she acknowledged.

Judge Bucklo also seemed baffled by Gonsiewski’s behavior in light of the fact that he didn’t appear to profit personally from it. His salary at the bank was $69,000 a year; his wife has worked as a bartender and as an assitant manager at a restaurant.

It came to light during the sentencing hearing, in fact, that there were times when Gonsiewski didn’t cash his paychecks from the bank, which led the judge to one of two conclusions: that he had money elsewhere or that he was mentally unbalanced, she theorized.

“He’s very sharp,” Stern told the judge of Gonsiewski, adding that he eventually did cash the paychecks.

Besides “motive is not a factor to be considered” during sentencing, Stern said to the judge. “The fact he did this, whatever the motive, he had no respect for the law.”

Since he was fired by the bank, Gonsiewski hasn’t sent so much as $20 to the bank as restitution, Stern said.

Gonsiewski’s lawyer, LeFevour, reiterated that his client isn’t hiding any money in any offshore accounts.

Said the judge: “It doesn’t make any sense.”

LeFevour, the defense lawyer, said Gonsiewski rarely even socialized with the bank’s clients, perhaps just once going out to dinner or golfing with them. He noted that his client has problems with alcohol.

Preparing to issue a sentence, the judge noted that a small bank lost $5.5 million because of fraud perpetrated by an insider over a long time period.

“It’s just baffling,” Judge Bucklo said again. “How it would be worth it I just do not understand.” She noted that he has about $400,000 in a retirement account. “That’s not peanuts,” she said.

In a court filing on Monday, LeFevour said Gonsiewski had no juvenile or adult convictions. He also wrote that the bank did a poor job of overseeing its workers.

“His simple efforts to deceive would not have been successful at all if someone at a minimum had been watching, just a little bit,” LeFevour wrote. “This was clearly not the case at First Security Bank.”

The defense lawyer sought to minimize the sophistication of Gonsiewski’s crime in hopes that the judge would go easier on him. “Gonsiewski used the simple tools of basic fraud — a pen and whiteout, or a replacement form — to complete his misguided efforts to help his clients,” his lawyer wrote Monday in a court filing.

In an earlier court proceeding, a bank customer named Luigi Adamo was identified as being the customer who was helped most often by Gonsiewski.

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