NEW ORLEANS -- The first domino to fall in a federal bank fraud investigation into the $1 billion collapse of First NBC Bank appeared in federal court Thursday.
Slidell contractor Jeffrey Dunlap was charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud for allegedly inflating invoices and fabricating financial records to tap into a $22 million line of credit from First NBC.
Dunlap pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Thursday and was released on $25,000 bond. He is expected to plead guilty once he appears before District Judge Ivan Lamelle, at which point he could face up to 30 years in prison.
But he’s likely to face far less time because his attorney, Walter Becker, said he’s cooperating with prosecutors.
“He accepts responsibility for his actions and is working toward a resolution with the government,” Becker said.
The feds clearly want Dunlap to testify against First NBC founder Ashton Ryan Jr., who is identified in court records as "Bank President A." Prosecutors allege Ryan acted as Dunlap’s loan officer, received free construction services out of the deal and was in on the conspiracy to defraud his own bank.
Dunlap and his construction company, Phoenix Civil Contractors, were doing construction work building a new subdivision on Ryan's 116-acre property in Mandeville from July 2009 to November 2016, according to court records.
Prosecutors allege Ryan helped Dunlap fabricate invoices used to borrow money from First NBC, then got to avoid paying Phoenix for the work on his property. The property was actually owned by a company Ryan owned along with Warren Treme.
Dunlap and Phoenix filed a civil lawsuit against Ryan claiming Treme paid an initial invoice but then neither Ryan nor Treme ever paid him for more than $5 million in additional work Phoenix performed at the property.
Ryan's criminal defense attorney, Eddie Castaing, said Dunlap “ginned up” those invoices, but Ryan had nothing to do with it and was defrauded along with his bank.
But in a bill of information charging Dunlap with conspiracy, federal prosecutors allege Dunlap and Ryan “periodically discussed inflating (Phoenix’s) accounts receivable to justify incremental increases in the (line of credit).” They also allege that Ryan falsely assured Dunlap his debt would be “resolved” when Ryan and Treme sold the subdivision at a profit.
Castaing said Ryan, as president and CEO of First NBC, fully disclosed in internal bank records that he owned a share of the property where Dunlap was getting loans to do the work. Castaing also said the loans all went through the proper approval channels at the bank and Ryan simply signed off on them.