Appointed chief executive of a bank in the Florida Keys while in his 20s, Jerry Williams rose to soaring heights during his career — but stumbled so spectacularly that he wound up in federal prison.
His leadership of Orion Bank transformed it into one of the largest lenders in the state, with oversized profits
that made Williams the envy of bankers across Florida.
He was lauded as the U.S. banking industry's "Community Banker of the Year" in 2006, and served the chairman of the Florida Bankers Association.
Privately, regulators and employees said, they saw another side of Williams. Examiners called him a "one-man show" who had little patience for criticism, while those who worked for him say he was on a mission to become wealthy at the bank's expense.
He was indicted on fraud charges
and sentenced to six years in prison in June 2012 for his involvement in an illegal stock transaction. He is the only chief executive in Florida to be charged with a crime.
"Williams is a prime example of company executives who reap excess profits at the expense of others," Patrick K. Miller, a former Orion employee, told a federal judge when Williams was sentenced. "His quest to become powerful in the world of banking was shadowed by his increased selfishness and greed. He simply lost his moral compass."
Williams lived a life of luxury. He had homes in Naples and the Blue Ridge Mountains, and used the bank's $3.8 million jet to take him around the country.
But as Orion's finances began to sag at the beginning of the housing crisis, Williams grew desperate.
He authorized the payment of $28 million in dividends to shareholders in 2007, though Orion lost $6 million that year. He persuaded another bank chief executive — Stephen L. Price of Florida Community Bank — to lend him $5.9 million using Orion's badly deflated stock as collateral.
Williams unloaded 18,000 shares of Orion stock on his bank's employee pension fund in return for just over $1 million, and got three wealthy shareholders to pay him $765,000 more for his shares on the promise that Orion would survive the Great Recession.
In the meantime, Williams tried to hide losses
by failing to report nonperforming loans and orchestrating an illegal stock deal to make the bank look stronger than it was — a transaction that would ultimately draw the attention of federal investigators.
That deal, which involved two of his top executives, saw Orion lend out $82 million to a customer who used $15 million of that sum to invest in the bank.
Throughout the trial, Williams and his attorneys maintained that Orion was simply a victim "of the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression."
But it was Williams who put his bank in danger of collapse by loading up on risky loans to developers, federal regulators say.
His bank lent more than $13 million to Pritam Singh even though the real estate developer was sanctioned by thrift regulators for improper property flips and defaults on tens of millions of dollars in loans during the Savings & Loan Crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Orion lent another $7.4 million to a company controlled by Marvin Rappaport in October 2006. This, though the real estate developer had been linked to a corruption scandal involving the Monroe County mayor a year earlier. He was not charged with any crime.
Before that, Rappaport was cited by California bank regulators for improper land deals and for helping a thrift hide bad loans.
The FDIC estimates that the failure of Orion resulted in $653 million in losses to the banking system. Nearly $400 million of those losses were caused by just 30 borrowers, court records show.
In court, former employee Miller said of Williams, "He wanted more and more to support his lavish lifestyle and felt he was too clever to get caught."