By Michael Pietrocola
How safe are your investments? In part one of a four part series we investigate the damaging relationship between a local financial institution and one of their top clients.
Car dealer Earl Stewart prides himself on providing customer service based on “integrity and respectability”; It is no doubt to the chagrin of Stewart that he became a board member at FirstCity Bank of Commerce, which is currently facing allegations of defrauding clients.
A South Florida-based security firm, a company invested in the protection of institutions and individuals, has been robbed by FirstCity bank. Marill Security Services has alleged that top-tier employees of the FirstCity, based in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida “knowingly, intentionally and maliciously used improper means, electronic espionage, to misappropriate Marill securities information without consent.” The lifting of this sensitive information has been confirmed through documented evidence by at least two sources.
Based on this four part series, depositors at FirstCity Bank of Commerce need to be concerned about their financial information being shared with other bank customers and investors have to worry about what’s really going on at FirstCity.
The suspected hijackers of Marill’s interests are former FirstCity Bank President Greg Manassa and former Executive Vice President Lynn Smith, the latter of whose family owns a competing security firm, Security Providers of Florida. The information pilfered, court documents relate, included target lists for potential clients and client pricing and contract expiration dates, information that Marill spent a decade compiling, could be devastating to the security firm’s business and profitable to Smith’s.
But it’s much worse than that. Manassa pushed relentlessly for more and more financial information from Marill claiming regulators required it to allow the company’s line-of-credit to remain intact. In fact, Manassa funneled the information to Smith. There will be a more detailed explanation concerning Manassa’s relationship with Smith in the next installment of this series.
Following a lawsuit filed by Marill, Smith admitted her role in the heist and subsequently resigned from the company. Smith is now the president and chief financial officer of Security Providers of Florida.
“Marill has suffered mentally by worrying about our clients being taken away by Lynn Smith,” said Marill President Jim Gordon. “We have been harmed simply by the mere fact that our list is in their hands and might be sold, bartered or used by them to our detriment.”
Trouble between Marill Security Services and FirstCity took root in early 2010 when Greg Manassa took over as bank president. Prior to the arrival of Manassa, Marill enjoyed a healthy relationship with the previous president, Lee Waring, who ensured the required funding to help aid the rapid growth the security firm was experiencing.
“Lee Waring was thrilled to have our account and was very helpful to us,” said Marill Chief Operating Officer MJ Manno. “He claimed that we were the Bank’s second largest customer and, as such, there really was nothing we needed that did not happen. Our relationship with FirstCity was mutually beneficial and both sides were content with the arrangement.”
Waring was fired in early 2010 and the relationship between Marill and FirstCity eroded. Manassa, as bank president, showed none of the amity of his predecessor and Marill quickly became a “concern” as a customer. Reid French, who dealt with Marill’s line of credit at FirstCity, intimated to Gordon that Manassa was on a mission to extinguish loans that did not mesh well with investors.
Eager to set the new bank president at ease, Gordon set a meeting with Manassa in October 2011.
“At that meeting, we made our best presentation to them sharing with them our CPA’s Statements, our projections ,which were amazing for growth and which happened, our reasons for staying with FCB and our desire to find a way to resolve whatever issues were bothering FCB,” said Gordon. “Our words fell upon deaf ears!”
Manassa promptly called a second meeting in an apparent attempt to sever relations with Marill Securities.
“Greg was belligerent, uncaring and aggressively negative,” said Gordon. “He constantly told us that he had another meeting to attend, that this was a meeting to simply inform us of some internal FCB decisions and that we were involved with some of those changes. He proceeded to tell us that the FCB would not be able, as promised, to help fund our growth and that the Bank had made a decision to request that we look elsewhere for a new Banking relationship.”
“Out of nowhere, we had been fired by our bank,” added Manno. “Something seemed fishy to us right from that moment but we could not put our finger on what might have happened to instantly turn us from a valued to an unwanted customer.”
Following the second meeting, Marill was stonewalled by FirstCity, with the pressure increased weekly to find a new bank. Denied any more funding from FirstCity, Marill’s continued growth was funded out of pocket by Gordon.
“Our quest for a new bank cost us a lot of time and a lot of money,” Gordon recalled.
A few months later Marill Security found out its confidential business information and most closely held trade secrets, including its proprietary customer list, had been compromised. All of the information which FCB had required Marill to give in return for their line of credit was included – names of customers, dates of contract expirations, cost of doing business at that location, projected costs and profits, budgets available, etc. Incredibly, much to the detriment of Marill, such closely-held and proprietary information was somehow being disseminated to by FirstCity.
It was subsequently revealed that bank Vice President Lynn Smith and her family owned a competing security firm, that Smith was overheard on phone calls attempting to sway business from Marill to her firm and that Smith had been observed copying all of our financial information, client information, etc. on the Bank’s copy machines for her own personal use. The information was initially provided by Marill in order to substantiate a line of credit from FirstCity.
“Our charts, financial analyses, client list, etc. were never meant for any eyes other than those at FirstCity Bank who needed to read them in order for us to get the financing,” Gordon explained.
Manassa departed FirstCity in 2012.
FirstCity’s Interim President and CEO Ronald Gaither had “no comment on the matter” when asked about the dubious actions of the bank employees and reasoning for their strange departures.
“That figures,” said Stewart, when told of Gaither’s less than detailed explanation on the matter. Stewart for his part said that the theft was investigated thoroughly and “there was a lot of smoke, but no fire.”
Unlike Gaither, Jim Gordon and his lawyers have plenty to say about on the way his security firm was mishandled by the FirstCity.
“FirstCity Bank failed us in so many ways,” said Gordon. “They made our lives miserable for months, they cost us time and a lot of money as we tried to find an alternate banking source and they had no guidelines to protect our proprietary information even though there is a presumed confidence that one gives to your banker will not be used against you for the personal use and profit of a bank officer.”
“If they did it against us, they can do it against anybody,” Gordon added.
In June, 2012 Marill found a new financial institute in Bank United, which they remain with today.