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Newport Beach Developer Files for Bankruptcy : Finance: Associate of Robert Ferrante also files for liquidation. Difficulties stem from effort to build on site of former landfill.

December 15, 1993|DEAN TAKAHASHI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Robert A. Ferrante, a once-flamboyant developer who was acquitted last year of criminal charges in one of the FBI's top-priority bank fraud cases, filed for bankruptcy Monday.

Ferrante of Newport Beach listed debts of $24.2 million and assets of only $777,300 in his Chapter 7 filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Ana. A Chapter 7 filing seeks a court-monitored liquidation of assets to pay creditors.

In addition, Ferrante associate Peter Sardagna of Laguna Hills also filed for bankruptcy liquidation Monday, listing debts of $27.6 million and assets of $919,375.

Their bankruptcies stem from the long ordeal to develop a retail center at a troubled Carson site that used to be a hazardous waste dump. The property was a major factor in the 1986 failure of Consolidated Savings Bank in Irvine, which was wholly owned by Ferrante, and played a part in the failure of American Diversified Savings Bank's failure earlier that year.

Neither Ferrante nor Sardagna could be reached for comment.

Their attorney, Richard Moneymaker, said the filings were necessary because both men had personally guaranteed bank loans that they could not repay. The largest creditor on both petitions is the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which refunded insured deposits at Consolidated.

"It looked like they would have a substantial shortfall because of the loan guarantees," Moneymaker said. "They wanted to make a fresh start and be able to earn a living."

Both Ferrante and Sardagna were listed as owners of nearly two dozen companies in the filing.

Both men were involved in the proposed development of a 180-store outlet mall on a 157-acre parcel in Carson. The Metro 2000 project, which regulators had a hand in encouraging, has been stalled for lack of financing.

Both Ferrante and Sardagna, a former consultant for Consolidated, were among nine Consolidated executives and Ferrante associates indicted in 1991 for allegedly defrauding the defunct thrift of $13.5 million by making insider loans to family and friends. Ferrante denied any wrongdoing and accused regulators of overzealousness.

Consolidated, with an estimated bailout cost of only $30 million, would be a forgettable footnote in the thrift industry debacle were it not for Ferrante's notoriety, his willingness to fight regulators and the prosecution's view that this was a major case.

The FBI, which investigated the case for five years, called it one of seven top-priority bank fraud probes in Southern California. At the time of the indictment in February, 1991, then U.S. Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh weighed in with personal comments about the case.

Two defendants pleaded guilty, but charges against a third were dropped. Last year, after a non-jury trial, a judge acquitted Ferrante, Sardagna and two others. Convictions of two others were later overturned.

A millionaire before he turned 30, Ferrante, now 43, enjoyed a flamboyant lifestyle and a mysterious past that became a topic of discussion among state and federal thrift regulators.

Born and raised in Orange County, he attended law school but dropped out, working instead in real estate and amassing personal wealth of $11 million. Through various companies, he owned fancy cars, including a Ferrari, and a luxurious 105-foot charter yacht called the Avanti.

His business style was reckless and secretive, according to court documents, and in 1982, he was shot six times in an assassination attempt outside his Redondo Beach office. He later said in sworn statements that two estranged business partners with ties to the Israeli Mafia targeted him.

Regulators never knew about the shooting two years later when they allowed him to open Consolidated with $2 million.

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