From the rural farming town of Immokalee, Stephen Price turned Florida Community Bank into a billion-dollar powerhouse that funded real estate developers who built condominiums, shopping malls and new homes across the state.
Behind the bank's success, though, were a series of risky deals. Regulatory reports and mortgage records show that Florida Community accepted deposits from a known terrorist, made loans to a member of the "Little Nicky" Scarfo crime family and paid large sums to directors for cars and property. A lawsuit by investors also accused the bank of conducting a least one stock transaction meant to fool regulators.
As the housing crash took its toll, Price traded millions in personal loans with a Naples banker who later wound up in prison, federal authorities say.
The bank exemplified all the excesses of the boom, from a disregard of safe practices to a level of arrogance unseen elsewhere.
At the center of it was Price — a self-proclaimed "benevolent dictator." He lashed out at regulators that dared question his practices and deceived lifelong friends and neighbors as the bank went down.
Price would not comment.
Regulators closed Florida Community in January 2010 and sold its assets to an unrelated Miami-based holding company that retained the name of "Florida Community Bank." The Florida Community Bank referenced in this story is the one closed in 2010.