Federal regulators have taken action against a money-losing Kansas thrift controlled by Don Bell, a supporter of right-wing causes who insists that God called him to the banking business.
On Friday, Bell signed a cease-and-desist order with the Office of Thrift Supervision. The order amounts to an admission that Olathe-based Security Savings Bank has been mismanaged. Bell and the bank's CEO, Olathe Mayor Michael Copeland, have agreed to the appointment of new directors amid concerns the bank engaged in "unsafe or unsound business practices." The bank's board also agreed to hire a management consultant.
The regulatory action comes almost five years after Bell fired two executives who had sought his resignation. The fired officers spoke of "conflict of interest" and "governance issues" after being kicked to the curb.
One source of tension at the bank was Bell's relationship with Carl Herbster, a politically active evangelist in Independence. I made an attempt to untangle their financial dealings in a 2005 feature story ("Blessed Are the Moneymakers," April 28, 2005).
A donor to Phill Kline's campaigns and the Alliance Defense Fund, Bell surrounded himself at the bank with likeminded conservative Christians. After the purge, he promoted Kevin Gilmore, who pushed for abstinence training as president of the Kansas Board of Education, to chief executive. John Bacon, a current board member, became a bank director.
Eventually, Bell's empire began to crack. Last year, an extended family filed suit alleging that Bell lied in an effort to entice them to invest nearly $1 million in Brittany Savings, the bank's holding company. (The suit was reportedly settled in June.) The investors became upset when Brittany Savings stopped paying dividends. The bank's misadventures include an unfinished golf course development in Greenwood.
A freelance financial writer, Teri Buhl, reported in February that the Office of Thrift Supervision was getting curious about the doings at Security Savings. In a later piece, Buhl suggested that Bell's ties to Republicans may have kept regulators off his doorstep.
Whatever the reason for the delay, they finally arrived.