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Kentucky man arrested in NY bailout fraud probe

NEW YORK (AP) — A Kentucky businessman was arrested Monday in a $100 million scheme that contributed to the collapse of a bank and tried to drain money from the federal bank bailout program before some funds were used to pay his mortgages and to buy designer clothing, jewelry and luxury cars, authorities said.

Wilbur Anthony Huff, 51, who has addresses in both Caneyville and Louisville, was released on $100,000 unsecured bond after a brief court appearance in federal court in Louisville in which prosecutors portrayed him as a flight risk. Along with two alleged accomplices arrested in New York, Huff faces various charges, including conspiracy to commit bank bribery, bank and insurance fraud, and tax evasion.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan called the case “Part Two” of his office’s investigation of the taxpayer-funded TARP. In October 2010, Charles Antonucci Sr., former president of the Park Avenue Bank, headquartered in Manhattan, pleaded guilty to fraud, bank bribery, embezzlement and conspiracy charges in a cooperation deal.

Bharara alleged that Huff carried out several illegal financial schemes that relied largely on his corrupt relationship with Park Avenue Bank, Antonucci and Matthew Morris, the bank’s senior vice president. Morris also was arrested Monday, along with Allen Reichman, executive director of investments at an investment bank and financial services company headquartered in Manhattan. The government said Reichman also aided Huff in his schemes.

Randy Zelin, a lawyer for Morris, said his client was released on $1 million bail. A lawyer for Reichman, who also was released on bail, did not immediately return a call for comment.

“I represent someone who thought he was an up and coming rising star, a junior executive at a bank,” Zelin said. “The reality is the things he is alleged to have done he didn’t have anything near the level of discretion to have been able to do. Intent and knowledge is critical to the proof in this case.”

At his plea hearing, Antonucci admitted accepting gifts from customers, including $250,000 in cash and use of private planes and cars.

Bharara called Huff a “vortex of fraud who also evaded over $50 million in taxes” owed to the Internal Revenue Service and plundered the assets of an insurance company, leading to its business failure. The government said some of the millions in tax money Huff pocketed was used to pay his and his family’s personal expenses, including mortgages, rent for his children’s apartments, staff and equipment for Huff’s farm, designer clothing, jewelry and luxury cars.

The government said Huff bribed Morris and Antonucci with at least $400,000 so they would provide him and his businesses illegal favors, including letting $9 million in overdrafts to business accounts accrue. It said he also helped to create documents falsely suggesting that Antonucci had earned $6.5 million through one of his companies so that bank would be on firmer financial footing and qualify for $11 million from TARP.

At his court appearance, Huff entered the courtroom in a black jacket and jeans, shackled at the ankles.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Dave Whalin barred Huff from taking an active role in any banking or investment businesses he is currently involved with.

Huff’s attorney, David Lambertus, said his client would only do the necessities, such as paying bills.

“Mr. Huff is willing to make the most minimal transactions,” Lambertus said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Calhoun said the nature of the charges and length of any potential prison sentence made Huff a flight risk.

“This case involves more than just a small amount of fraud,” Calhoun said.

Lambertus said during and after the hearing that he had only recently seen the indictment and could not comment on the details.

Antonucci’s case has entangled former Kentucky Lt. Gov. Steve Pence, who said court records in a guilty plea involving the federal bailout program contain “a number of inaccuracies.” Pence, 57, has declined to identify what he called the inaccuracies. He doesn’t deny being an unindicted co-conspirator in the case.

Huff spent a year on probation in Kentucky after pleading guilty in 2004 to wire fraud. In a civil action then, he was ordered by a federal judge in Florida to repay $10 million in a case brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission. He also was barred from serving as an officer or executive on any publicly traded company.

All three defendants were scheduled to appear in federal court in New York on Oct. 10.