Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Will Alexi Giannoulias's Potential U.S. Senate Run Be Influenced by His Family's Bank Loans to Reputed Mobsters?

Broadway Bank is trying to recoup $12.9 million from two Chicago crime figures, rekindling a controversy as the bank's former chief loan officer, state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, gears up to run for the U.S. Senate.

In recently filed foreclosure suits, the Giannoulias family-owned North Side bank alleges loan defaults by four companies whose owners include two convicted Chicago bookmakers — one also convicted of promoting a nationwide prostitution ring. The loans are on a hodgepodge of properties, including a South Beach hotel and a South Side shopping center that has lost its grocery anchor. The defendants include 1201 South Western LLC, a Berwyn-based company whose activities include making short-term real estate loans at interest rates of 1% a week, property records show.

Questions about Mr. Giannoulias' role in the loans surfaced in 2006, when he overcame concerns about his youth and inexperience to be elected treasurer. He defended the loans as sound business decisions, a claim undermined by the foreclosures.

Now, at age 33, he could face similar questions, particularly if there are more disclosures about the relationship between the convicted felons and Broadway.

"In a closely contested race, something like this can marginalize enough votes to put you out of the race," says political consultant Thom Serafin, president of Chicago-based communications firm Serafin & Associates Inc., who also notes criticism of Mr. Giannoulias' oversight of a state-run college savings fund. "All of that lends itself to a credibility gap, and that's where an opponent gets you."

Mr. Giannoulias' chances of winning the 2010 Democratic Senate primary got a boost last week when Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced she would run for re-election rather than campaign for senator or governor. A spokesman for Mr. Giannoulias declines to comment.

Mr. Giannoulias hasn't announced his Senate candidacy formally, but he has raised $1.1 million, giving him an early edge in a primary fight to succeed Roland Burris. Other potential Democratic candidates include Christopher Kennedy, a Chicago real estate executive and son of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy, and Cheryle Jackson, president and CEO of the non-profit Chicago Urban League. On the Republican side, possible candidates include U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk and businessman Andy McKenna Jr., chairman of the state GOP.

The foreclosure cases are among a nationwide surge in troubled assets that hurt many banks including Broadway, an aggressive lender when commercial real estate was booming. "The borrowers were worthy at the time these loans were issued," Broadway Bank says in a statement. "However, when they failed to make their loan payments, the bank took legal action . . ., just as it would do in any situation involving a customer who did not repay a loan."

Broadway alleges $2.9 million in loans are in default on the Lorraine Hotel in Miami Beach. The property is owned by a venture that includes Michael Giorango, 56, who was convicted in 1991 of federal bookmaking charges in Chicago. He also was convicted in 2004 in Miami of promoting a nationwide prostitution operation.

Broadway also alleges that a nearly $6-million loan is in default on a shuttered restaurant along the Intracoastal Waterway in Hollywood, Fla. The potential development site is owned by a venture that includes Mr. Giorango and Demitri Stavropoulos, 41, who was convicted in 2004 in Chicago of running a betting operation that grossed more than $3 million in about three years.

The venture fought the foreclosure case, accusing the bank of improperly obstructing a sale of the property. Including fees and unpaid interest, the total amount due is almost $10.4 million, according to the complaint filed March 30 in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court.

An attorney for Mr. Stavropoulos declines to comment.

Mr. Giorango, reached at a Los Angeles apartment building that he owns in a venture with Mr. Stavropoulous, also declines to comment. Broadway has a $3.4-million loan on the 30-unit property that comes due next year.

The venture that owns the apartment building, 1201 South Western, is a defendant in four foreclosure cases filed by Broadway last month in Cook County Circuit Court seeking to collect nearly $2.5 million. In addition to its real estate holdings, the venture has been an active lender, making 43 short-term loans totaling $6.9 million, an average of $160,500 per loan, property records show. Broadway financed the company on Dec. 21, 2004, a month after 1201 South Western made the first in a series of loans that continued through July 2006, the records indicate.

Interest rates could be obtained on just eight of the loans, totaling $800,000, which are the subject of collection cases. On those loans, the company charged interest of about 1% a week, according to the promissory notes.

Thanks to Thomas A. Corfman

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