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| Columns |

U.S. Century Heads Got Rich Off Insider Deals, Lawsuit Alleges

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The latest chapter in the tumultuous saga of Doral's U.S. Century Bank could spell trouble for some of the biggest names in Miami-Dade politics, with accusations of shady boardroom deals.

It all began last November, when a group of minority shareholders -- including real estate developer Masoud Shojaee and Coral Gables lawyers Carlos and Jorge Silva -- sued the bank in Miami-Dade Circuit Court to recoup more than $10 million in losses.

Now, new filings spell out just how much money they're accusing some prominent names -- including U.S. Century's chairman, Ramon Rasco; mega-homebuilder Sergio Pino; and Rodney Barreto, South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee chairman -- of "promoting an incestuous culture of insider-lending."

See also:
- Feds Put Clamps On Miami Bank With Most Insider Deals In Florida

The real trouble started in 2009, when U.S. Century had more insider loans ($111.9 million) and took more bail-out funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program ($50.2 million) than any other bank in Florida. The feds noticed, and two years later, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation ordered Century to agree to reforms to block more insider deals. U.S. Century promptly reported $134 million in losses.

The new filings in the suit document the allegedly shady deals that Shojaee and the Silvas claim sent U.S. Century to the brink of insolvency.

For instance, they say Rasco collected nearly $2 million in legal fees by working on the bank's insider loans. He also helpfully steered the board to approve branch locations on properties owned by Pino, who allegedly received more than $11 million in rent from U.S. Century.

Pino, who no longer sits on the bank's board, also persuaded the bank to buy land he couldn't sell to other developers and secured millions of dollars in personal loans at rates more favorable than those available to the general public, the suit alleges. What's more, U.S. Century modified a $17.5 million loan issued to Barreto at a lower interest rate so the bank would not have to report the mortgage as "troubled" to state and federal regulators.

Barreto insists he has done nothing wrong. "The bank has made money on my loans," he says. "I have never missed a payment, and I haven't benefited from anything."

Rasco and Pino could not be reached for comment.

Their attorney Marty Steinberg says the lawsuit has no merit. "There are no specifics, no facts, and no evidence," he says. "It doesn't identify a single transaction that was problematic."

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