July 25--Denying she ever intentionally misled her employer about loan applications, a former loan officer for Fifth Third Bank testified Thursday that she accepted $100,000 from a borrower after she left the bank and as compensation for work she had done or planned to do, not as bribe money.
"They considered me part of the team. They wanted to get me started," Paulette Roberts said of the Michigan developers from whom she accepted the money. "I didn't consider it a reward or a tip in the true sense of the word. ... I was expected to earn this out."
Ms. Roberts, 56, of Sylvania is on trial in U.S. District Court for conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, bank bribery, and 41 counts of money laundering. Federal prosecutors allege she falsified bank documents to get some $12 million in commercial loans approved for the developers -- loans on which they later defaulted.
Prosecutors further contend she created a limited liability corporation called Higher Ground Enterprises through which she received payments from the developers, including Giuseppe Cangialosi, a former Monroe builder who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud in the case.
He testified earlier this week that he paid Ms. Roberts $100,000 in 2007 after his firm sold a 52-acre parcel near the Cabela's store in Dundee, Mich., to Meijer Inc. for more than $7 million.
While he testified that she did not do any consulting work for him nor was she asked to, Ms. Roberts told a different story. She said that when she told Cangialosi late in 2006 that she was considering taking a new job, he asked her to move to Florida, where he was relocating, to work for him.
She said she refused, citing numerous reasons, including the fact that she owned a residential building lot in Monclova Township and wanted to sell it. Ms. Roberts said he insisted on seeing it and said he would build a house there at cost, which would enable her to sell the house or use the equity in it to invest in future projects with him.
The house was never built, she said, although she testified that she did work for Cangialosi and two of his business partners that included finding investors for a restaurant Cangialosi wanted to build in Florida and researching potential locations and markets for a chain of restaurants he hoped to open in Florida.
"I worked hard for them," she said. "[The payment] wasn't because I had done something on their behalf."
Under cross-examination by Alissa Sterling, an assistant U.S. attorney, Ms. Roberts conceded she discussed working for her clients while she was still employed at Fifth Third, that she used the money deposited into a Higher Grounds Enterprises account to buy two new cars and gold coins, and that she never entered into a legal agreement to do consulting work for the developers.
"Do you want this jury to believe that you had no legal agreement with them but you asked your own mother to sign a promissory note for $2,200?" Ms. Sterling demanded.
"Not the same thing," Ms. Roberts replied.
"I would agree with you," Ms. Sterling said.
In an opening statement Thursday, defense attorney Catherine Killam told the jury that after hearing from the government's witnesses over six days, they were going to hear "the other side of the story" straight from Ms. Roberts, the only witness she called.
Ms. Roberts, she said, was "not a greedy senior vice president but a relatively green loan officer" working with an even greener credit analyst at the bank.
The jury is to hear closing arguments today and begin deliberations.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: email@example.com or 419-213-2134.
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