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Feds sue insiders at failed Sandy Springs bank

RockBridge Commercial Bank opened in 2006 with big-name backers and a blockbuster cash-raising campaign that ginned up a then-record $36 million.

But a lawsuit filed this week by federal regulators said seven former officers and directors of the Sandy Springs-based bank took “unreasonable risks” in their management of the institution, which failed just three years after its ballyhooed opening.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said the officials pursued an “aggressive growth strategy that focused heavily on high-risk” lending, including loans for out-of-market real estate development and even corporate jets, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Atlanta.

The FDIC said the insiders “failed to heed the regulators’ warnings” about allegedly deficient internal controls and vetting of loans from 2007 to 2009, and “instead … effectively doubled down” on real estate and aircraft lending.

The insiders named are former RockBridge Chairman and CEO Lauch McKinnon, Vice President Steven Lehwald, Senior Lending Officer E.M. Thorne III, and former board members Carl Burr, Lawrence Smith, Arnold Tillman and David Zalik. The regulator accused the defendants of negligence and gross negligence.

“We are disappointed that the FDIC has filed yet another meritless lawsuit in Georgia against former bank officers and directors,” said the defendants’ attorney, Mary Gill, with Atlanta-based Alston & Bird. “We look forward to demonstrating in court that the FDIC’s claims are baseless.”

Regulators criticized 16 specific loans for allegedly deficient practices that resulted in more than $27 million in losses to the bank.

The suit is the 13th FDIC liability lawsuit against insiders of a failed Georgia bank. The state leads the nation in bank failures since mid-2008.

Notable shareholders at RockBridge included Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus and real estate giant Charlie Ackerman.