Self-dealing banker to pay $3.9 million; spend seven years in prison

The former president of a Tifton bank was sentenced Thursday to seven years in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $3.9 million in restitution for hiding bad loans - including one he had a personal interest in — that helped sink the bank in 2010.

Gary Patton Hall Jr., of Tifton, was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Valdosta for conspiracy to commit bank fraud and fraud against the U.S. government agencies that suffered losses as a result of Tifton Banking Co.' s failure.

The bank still owed $3.8 million in federal bailout funds when it failed, said the special inspector general’s office for the federal TARP bank fund, known as SIGTARP.

Hall, 49, who was president and chief executive of the bank from 2005 to 2010, pleaded guilty in December. He had faced up to 30 years in prison for the charges.

Hall “owed a duty to (the bank’s) depositors to protect and care for their money more carefully than if it were his own; instead, he used it like it was his own,” said Acting U.S. Attorney G.F. Peterman III. “His self-dealing and dishonesty violated the trust his own community and neighbors had placed in him, causing harm to them and to the reputation of the banking industry itself.”

Hall admitted in the December plea deal that as the Great Recession and financial crisis unfolded, he engaged in an “ongoing scheme” to hide loan losses and personal dealings from federal and state bank regulators and the bank’s own loan committee.

Investigators said Hall approved a loan to finance the sale of his Panama City, Fla., condominium in a buyer who later filed bankruptcy. Hall, who didn’t tell the loan committee about his interest in the deal, made a $50,000 profit on the sale while the bank lost $400,000 on the loan, investigators said.

Hall also lied, investigators said, about the fact that borrowers had already stopped making payments on two commercial loans when the bank re-financed with loans guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The agencies lost $2 million on those loans, SIGTARP said.

Hall was ordered to pay the $3.9 million in restitution to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which took over the failed bank, as well as the SBA and Agriculture Dept.