A man who worked with money and liked it just a little too much
Mike Wise, banker, financier, thief, and probably the best-dressed man I’ve ever known, killed himself by jumping off the ninth level of a parking garage at the Tampa airport.The outline of Mike’s story has become pretty familiar: CEO of one of Colorado’s biggest financial institutions in the ’80s; association with the politically elite, including George H.W. Bush’s son, Neil; the failure of Silverado Savings Bank; the acquittal for bank fraud; and finally, a guilty verdict for embezzlement and a prison sentence. It’s a story worthy of a Tom Wolfe novel.I knew Mike for much of that time. I wasn’t a close friend, but did watch his rise and his fall up to his conviction for stealing almost $9 million from his private lending firm, Cornerstone Capital.In the late ’70s Jim Metz, a mortgage banker I’d known since 1962, bought a moribund little Denver S&L called Mile Hi Savings that was teetering on failure and whose former CEO was doing time for fraud. Jim began looking around for a guy to run the bank, and hired Mike Wise, who, at the time, was working for a Kansas S&L.He couldn’t have found a more charismatic guy. Mike, a former men’s clothing salesman, wore a suit better than Maurice Chevalier. And he had the poise, panache, and diction to back it up. His mind was quick, and he had a remarkable ability to grasp a bigger picture. But he had at least one glaring flaw. He had a compulsion: It wasn’t alcohol, drugs, or gambling, but rather high living. He was a compulsive high-liver. A lot of something was never enough. This pervaded both his business and personal life.Mike changed the name of the bank to Silverado Savings, an apt name for the boomtown years before the S&L crash of the late ’80s. He brought on heavy-hitter directors, including the vice president’s son, and made big loans to Colorado’s biggest developers and builders. The bank grew, and so did Mike’s reputation as one of the country’s sharpest young financial executives. His combination of good looks, impeccable dressing and intelligence had people talking about a national political career.When the bank ran out of capital, one of Mike’s ploys was to lend money on a development with the stipulation part of the money come back to buy Silverado stock.The bubble broke, the bank failed, and Jim Metz and Mike were both indicted. Jim was convicted and did six months in a federal prison. Mike beat the rap, which alleged misuse of a $500,000 home equity loan, and came to Aspen to start life anew. At that time, he was working for Jack DeBoer, an Aspen developer, and Mike’s office was right across the hall from mine. We’d met before, and got to know each other better.There he founded Cornerstone Capital, which made hard-money loans using investor funds, much of it from IRA and Keogh retirement plans.The business was a success, but Mike’s eyes glazed over when he was exposed to the high end Aspen life style. He strove to emulate, in fact to surpass it, and embezzled money to do it. The word was, he misappropriated some $8.7 million, probably taking a couple of million for himself and the rest of it to cover up the first theft. He got 3 years in the federal slammer in Leavenworth, got out early on good behavior, spent some time in a halfway house, and dropped out of sight.I lost track of Mike then, until his final plunge at the airport, but it seems Mike was running true to form.He went south, and talked the owner of a mortgage company into hiring him as a consultant. There’s no indication that he concealed his history. In fact, the firm, CFIC Mortgage, was fined $193,000 in Georgia and $848,000 in North Carolina for hiring convicted felons, in violation of state law. The owner said he liked to “give people a second chance.” For a time it was a big operation, with more than 300 origination branches.Mike, being Mike, rose to the top of the heap, apparently in charge of loan production, even though he was still a “consultant.” He remarried, and bought a $950,000 house.But when the firm closed its doors in 2007, a victim of the deteriorating mortgage market and its hiring practices, Mike was out of work, and on his way to a date in the parking garage. He was involved in a mortgage brokerage firm in the Tampa Bay area, this time without his accustomed emergence from the ashes. He was almost to the end of the downward spiral.There is at present no indication Mike did anything illegal after Cornerstone. The Florida attorney general said there were no current investigations involving him. Commenting on that, some cynics have said, “There will be,” opining his suicide was a result of bad news about to break.On the other hand, it may be that, without the good life, there was no life for Mike, and there was no point in sticking around.Pat Dalrymple is a valley native. He’s been in the mortgage and banking business since 1961. He’ll be happy to answer your questions or hear your comments. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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