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Credit union fraud leaves scars

By Lee Howard

Publication: The Day

Published July 28. 2013 4:00AM

Five years ago Monday, Mark Fetcher had just returned to southeastern Connecticut from his home in Pompano Beach, Fla., to relax near the water in Niantic, oblivious to the sudden closure of a local credit union where a good chunk of his savings had been held.

But when he powered up his laptop later that day, after a long drive covering some 1,400 miles, thoughts of relaxation turned to consternation.

The New London Security Federal Credit Union, a venerable Jewish institution dating back to the 1930s on whose board his father once served, had been closed down by federal authorities and declared insolvent, he read. He later learned that the credit union's longtime investment adviser, 82-year-old Edwin F. Rachleff of New London, had committed suicide on the same day.

"I don't think I've ever got any more information in the past five years," Fetcher said in a phone interview last week. "I've heard lots of rumors ... but most didn't make any sense at all."

The National Credit Union Administration, charged with regulating federal credit unions, came out with a report less than a year after the closure blaming the institution's demise on a two-decade-long fraud perpetrated by Rachleff, a beloved figure who was a longtime stockbroker at A.G. Edwards, a brokerage house later bought by Wells Fargo.

In an attempt to recoup insurance losses totaling nearly $10 million, the NCUA, as liquidating agent for the credit union, filed lawsuits in 2010 naming Wells Fargo, along with others who have since been dismissed from the suits, as responsible for the credit union's failure. Wells Fargo brought a counter-suit against various parties, all of whom have since been dropped as defendants.

Since then, a trial date has been rescheduled several times due to ongoing discovery and settlement negotiations between the parties. The case is now scheduled for a trial in May 2014, according to legal filings.

But to Fetcher, placing blame is beside the point; he is as curious as anyone else about the big question: Where did all the money go?

"I really don't care who's involved in it," he said. "I just want my money."

Fetcher, like fewer than two dozen other people with money deposited at the credit union, did not get all of his funds back after the NCUA finished paying out insurance claims.

The NCUA said in a legal filing that credit union members lost about $570,000 in accounts that exceeded the $100,000 insurance limit. Insurance limits have since been raised to $250,000 per account.

Fetcher, in his late 50s, was not willing to disclose the total amount he lost in the credit-union failure. He did say, however, that he had more than one account and expected each to be insured up to the $100,000 limit; instead, he said, the NCUA told Fetcher, a bachelor, it would pay him only $100,000.

"That came as a big surprise to me," he said.

Fetcher was one of five credit union members who sued the NCUA in an attempt to recoup losses. But a federal court said the agency's suit against Wells Fargo had to be heard before credit union members could sue the regulator.

"Someone has to be accountable for this," Fetcher said. "It's just unbelievable it's taking all this time."

Rachleff's son Peter, reached by email, said, "I am not willing to discuss these allegations."

In 2009, Rachleff's widow, Naomi, sought $1.4 million in restitution from the NCUA to compensate for money she said her husband transferred from their joint bank account to the credit union without her knowledge. But the agency denied her claim, saying the transfers likely were used to cover up her husband's multimillion-dollar embezzlement scheme.

At the time, Mrs. Rachleff's attorney, Jim Glasser of New Haven, said his client "had absolutely no knowledge of what was going on with the credit union, if anything was going on."

According to an NCUA report, Rachleff had been placed under criminal investigation in June 2008 after a routine examination turned up discrepancies in the financial institution's investment accounts. The NCUA said Rachleff concealed his fraud by forging A.G. Edwards account statements to make them look like credit-union transactions.

Rachleff's final statement indicated the credit union had $11.8 million in assets, but when inspectors went to find the funds, the New London Security account was found to be phony and no money actually existed.

The NCUA has instituted several changes after the failure of the New London Security Federal Credit Union, which a report by its inspector general said had not been adequately monitored by the agency. Late last year, the NCUA released a new national supervision manual that established a formal method to perform quarterly reviews of credit unions.

But for Mark Fetcher, who remembers how his late mother saved every penny she could to deposit in the credit union, the changes came too late.

"My mother would clip coupons, she would check receipts at Stop & Shop," he said. "She grew up in the Depression and put the money in expecting it would be there.

"It disturbs me greatly that that money hasn't been returned to me."

l.howard@theday.com

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