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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Fifth Third Bank VP admits to embezzling $10 million largely and oddly to help Jacksonville customers

Federal authorities have charged a former Jacksonville bank vice president with embezzling $10.5 million for himself and customers, oddly using the money to help them with loans and other banking favors, court records show.
Christopher David Boston, 40, entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors last week in which he admitted to the thefts from Fifth Third Bank over a 3½-year period, records show. The thefts occurred while Boston was working as a vice president and a private banker at the bank’s Mandarin branch at 9716 San Jose Blvd. just south of Old St. Augustine Road. A private banker handles high dollar accounts, of which Boston had dozens.
Boston has not been arrested and is set to be in court next week to formally enter the plea to bank fraud, which carries a sentence of up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Boston could not be reached to comment and his defense attorney, former State Attorney Harry Shorstein, declined to comment, as did prosecutors.
A one-count information, which is a charging document prepared by federal prosecutors in lieu of an indictment, and the plea agreement initialed by Boston were filed in the federal clerk’s office in Jacksonville Feb. 19.
Boston, a bank employee since about 2007, admitted embezzling the money from one large commercial corporate account and two individual customer accounts, falsifying bank records and illegally laundered funds between November 2009 and April 2013.
About $8.3 million was taken from the individual accounts, while about $2.2 million came from the corporate account. The account holders were not identified in court records.
Boston electronically transferred the $8.3 million to the corporate account to help conceal a theft from that account, according to the records. It’s unclear if  the individual account holders noticed the money was missing. The records do not say what triggered the investigation.
Boston used about $210,000 of the stolen money to pay down mortgage payments of about $2,000 for a Mandarin home on Emily’s Crossing Court just off Losco Road. That money also went toward installing a backyard swimming pool, court records show.
The home was given to his wife after she was granted a divorce in September, several months after her husband lost his job during the investigation, the couple's divorce file said. Records show about $250,000 was owed on the two-story home at the time of the divorce.
Court records said Boston used the bulk of the stolen money to:
■ Pay off the troubled loans in his customer portfolio.
■ Make “off-book” loans to customers whose loan applications had previously been denied and then making off-book interest payments on those loans. The records said many of those customers unknowingly received the benefit, though a further explanation was not provided.
■ Deposit the money into other customer accounts to fraudulently bolster their creditworthiness.
■ Provide customers “enhanced” interest returns on deposit accounts.
It’s unclear how Boston benefited, if at all, by helping the other customers. None of those customers are named in the information or plea agreement.
After discovering the theft, the bank “took corrective action in order to make their victimized clients whole and then to attempt to recover bank funds embezzled by the defendant,” the plea agreement said.
The records said the bank replenished the three accounts, then attempted to issue legitimate loans to customers who received about $8.4 million in “off-the-book and non-conforming” loans from Boston.
“Fortunately, the majority of the individuals that had unknowingly received the benefit ... voluntarily agreed to sign new bank-approved and legitimate loan documents,” the plea agreement said.
About $6.4 million in new loans were made, leaving about $2 million likely never to be recovered by the bank. The money is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. About $2.2 million in restitution is being sought from Boston, the records said.
Fifth Third Bancorp, headquartered in Cincinnati, has about 10 branches in the Jacksonville area and 1,320 full-service banking centers in 12 states, according to the company’s website. Bank branch officials declined to comment on the case, instead referring all inquiries to the bank’s corporate office. An email from that office said that all affected customers have been contacted and that none would suffer a loss.
Boston and his ex-wife have one child, records show. At the time of the divorce, the wife worked at another branch of Fifth Third Bank. Records do not connect her to the case in any way and she has not been charged.

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