Four employees of a clout-heavy Bridgeport bank whose president was found hanged in the Park Ridge home of a customer have been charged with helping Chicago attorney Robert M. Kowalski and “higher-ranking bank officials” embezzle at least $29 million from the bank before federal regulators abruptly shut it down in December 2017 amid an investigation of massive fraud.
Among those charged were two of Washington Federal Bank for Savings’ top executives: Rosallie C. Corvitte, 45, of Chicago, who was the bank’s chief financial officer and treasurer, and Jane V. Iriondo, 39, of Boise, Idaho, who was corporate secretary.
Also charged: Alicia Mandujano, 49, of Chicago, who was a loan servicer, and Cathy M. Torres, 39, of Chicago, a former loan officer.
All four are accused of conspiring to embezzle the $29 million with Kowalski, a lawyer and developer who was a major customer of the bank and already had been indicted with his sister Jan R. Kowalski, also a Chicago attorney, on charges they concealed assets related to Robert Kowalski’s bankruptcy case.
Robert M. Kowalski.
As part of the same case, a superseding indictment filed Thursday in federal court in Chicago and made public Friday says the four former Washington Federal employees and unnamed “higher-ranking officials allegedly transferred the money to Robert Kowalski and others, often without any documentation, and falsified bank records to conceal the embezzlement” from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and another federal banking oversight agency.”
The indictment doesn’t offer any clues to what’s perhaps the biggest mystery surrounding the closing of the bank on Dec. 15, 2017: how and why bank president John F. Gembara ended up dead, with a Home Depot rope around his neck, in the spacious, second-floor bedroom of Washington Federal customer Marek Matczuk’s million-dollar Park Ridge home 12 days earlier.
The first story in the Sun-Times investigation of the failed Bridgeport bank Washington Federal Bank for Savings, published March 4, 2018.
Gembara’s death was ruled a suicide by police in the northwest suburb and the Cook County medical examiner’s office. Some Gembara family members and Kowalski himself, though, have said they think he was killed.
In announcing the new charges, federal authorities also said the criminal investigation is “ongoing.”
Investigators have said they believe that more than $80 million might have been siphoned from Washington Federal, with years of phony paperwork obscuring the missing cash from the government regulators who are supposed to keep tabs on bank finances.
The indictment added new charges against Robert Kowalski including conspiracy to commit embezzlement and falsify bank records.
Bank failures are rare these days. This one has drawn attention not only for how unusual it was and what authorities say was the size of the embezzlement but also because of the bank’s ties to the 11th Ward Regular Democratic Organization, long controlled by the family of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th).
Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times file
His nephew Patrick Daley Thompson is the alderman of the 11th ward and got an $80,000 loan from Washington Federal in October 2017 as regulators were discovering financial irregularities at the bank.
The loan was to cover repairs at the ward office at 3659 S. Halsted St., wasn’t secured by any collateral and was deposited in the ward’s campaign fund.
Thompson hasn’t been charged with any wrongdoing.
Among the board members overseeing the bank’s operations for years was William Mahon, a longtime 11th ward resident, political ally of the Daley and a top official in the city of Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanitation who, for a time, was involved in loan approvals at the bank.
Six months before federal bank auditors discovered “massive fraud” at Washington Federal, the bank got a clean bill of health from its internal auditors, Bansley & Kiener, a Rosemont business that also does work for Daley-controlled political campaigns and has donated to Thompson’s political funds.
Washington Federal was founded in 1913 by Gembara’s grandfather to serve his fellow Polish immigrants. It focused on residential mortgages, with a few commercial loans. Its main office was in Bridgeport at 2869 S. Archer Ave., with a branch at 1410 W. Taylor St. in Little Italy.
When the bank was shut down, its deposits –—totaling about $140 million — were taken over by Royal Savings Bank, which is based on the Southeast Side. Royal soon saw those deposits plummet at an alarming rate.
Gembara, who was 56 at the time of his death, was chairman of the board, chief executive officer and president of Washington Federal and owned 21.4 percent of its stock, making him the largest shareholder.
Matczuk was a longtime Gembara friend and bank customer who had five outstanding loans from Washington Federal totaling nearly $1.8 million. His home went into foreclosure about five months before Gembara was found dead in the bedroom.
Originally published: 2020-08-28 14:29:59