Olathe builder Donald Bell Sr. has taken a well-deserved ribbing for positioning himself as Jesus' moneychanger. Bell has claimed that God told him to buy a bank, an assertion discredited by Friday's news that regulators had closed Security Savings Bank, which Bell built up after receiving his supposedly divine revelation in 1998.
The failure of Security Savings is more than a story about a vainglorious Christian businessman, however. It is also an instance of regulators falling down on the job.
Blinking red lights have been attached Security Savings since at least 2004, when Bell sacked two executives who questioned his judgment. Tom Wilbur, the bank president, and Alan Eichelberger, the chief loan officer, were fired after they took their concerns about Bell to the bank's audit committee. On his way out the door, Wilbur described "corporate governance issues" and "conflicts of interest."
One source of tension was Bell's relationship with Carl Herbster, a politically active evangelist in Independence. I made an attempt to untangle their complex financial dealings in a 2005 feature story.
The Office of Thrift Supervision, Security Savings Bank's regulator, was aware of the purge that sent Wilbur and Eichelberger looking for new jobs. But the OTS continued to allow Security Savings to blunder along. (Among the bank's regrettable deals is an $8 million loan for a failed golf course development in Greenwood.) Finally, in early 2009, financial writer Teri Buhl reported that the OTS was in Olathe, looking at the Security Savings' books.
Bell has supported right-wing politicians with campaign contributions. In a later piece, Buhl described speculation that Bell's support of Republicans had kept the OTS at bay during George W. Bush's time in office.
If officials at the OTS have any regrets about the way they supervised Security Savings, they're not saying so publicly. A spokeswoman at the OTS declined to comment beyond the press release released on Friday.
Deposits at Security Savings have been transferred to Simmons First, an Arkansas bank with presumably more terrestrial origins.