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Waits ease at IndyMac branches

Some other financial institutions put lengthy holds on its checks.

July 17, 2008|Andrea Chang | Times Staff Writer

Customers of failed IndyMac Bank faced shorter waits and less confusion at branch locations Wednesday, but some depositors who closed their accounts encountered new hurdles when they tried to deposit cashier's checks at other banks.

Sheryl MacPhee, 46, said she liquidated a certificate of deposit at IndyMac's San Marino branch Tuesday morning after a two-hour wait. She then took the check to a Washington Mutual branch in South Pasadena to deposit.

MacPhee said a WaMu manager told her that under a new corporate policy, the bank was not accepting IndyMac checks. If a customer insisted on depositing the check, it could be eight weeks or more before the full amount would be accessible, she said she was told.

"It seems to me that other financial institutions not accepting these checks is only furthering the panic," said MacPhee, a freelance writer from South Pasadena who deposited her check elsewhere. "Sure, IndyMac will give you a check, but what good is it if no other institution will accept it?"

Officials at the Office of Thrift Supervision, WaMu's chief regulator, are investigating the complaints about the checks, agency spokesman William Ruberry said.

WaMu spokeswoman Olivia Riley declined to discuss details of the bank's check policies. "We have a check hold policy that takes into consideration a variety of factors," she said. "WaMu is accepting checks from IndyMac customers; however, depending on the specifics, funds will be subject to an extended hold period."

Wells Fargo said it too was placing holds on many IndyMac checks as a precaution.

"Wells Fargo does not have any concerns about the official checks that are being issued by IndyMac to its customers," spokeswoman Mary Trigg said. "However, we do have a concern that people could be taking advantage of this situation by creating fraudulent checks."

Although the bank is accepting IndyMac checks, holds may be put on amounts more than $5,000. For example, if a customer deposited a $100,000 check, $95,000 could be subject to a hold, she said.

The hold can be for up to seven business days for an existing account, and up to nine business days for a new account, Trigg said. She added that the hold policy applied to checks from banks other than IndyMac, though not as often.

John Bovenzi, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. official now acting as chief executive of Pasadena-based IndyMac, said he was "deeply troubled by reports that there are financial institutions that are refusing to honor or are placing excessive holds on IndyMac Federal checks."

"I have been in contact with the leadership of several of the large institutions operating in the area and notified them that this issue deserves their immediate attention," he said. "It is unfortunate that some financial institutions are denying depositors the services that they are entitled to."

Meanwhile, other IndyMac depositors complained that they still were having trouble accessing their money in the wake of Friday's takeover.

The FDIC has assured depositors that accounts with $100,000 or less held in a single name or $250,000 in a retirement account are fully insured and safe. The FDIC has said that in addition to fully paying out insured IndyMac deposits, it will immediately pay half of uninsured IndyMac deposits.

Some customers had structured their deposits to get FDIC coverage beyond $100,000 per account by opening joint accounts and trust accounts.

At the bank's Northridge branch Wednesday, Sandy Frasca waited with her daughter, Annalisa Van Aken, 41, to close her savings account. Frasca, who owns a real estate firm, said she had $168,000 in the account and was worried that the bank wouldn't give her the total amount, even though her daughter was a beneficiary.

"We're going to be in a lot of trouble if we don't get the rest of it," she said. "They promised me when they did the account that it wouldn't be a problem."

But generally, customers said they were pleased with the more efficient process at IndyMac's branches.

"It was easy," said Diane Sobel, 52, as she left a branch in Encino, where police had been called Tuesday to calm irate customers. "Thank God I didn't have to deal with any of that."

Sobel, who manages a dentist's office, said she rushed home Tuesday night from a vacation in San Diego after hearing that IndyMac had been taken over. She arrived at the branch around 9 a.m. and got right in. But after speaking with an employee, she decided not to close her accounts. "It's kind of silly," Sobel said. "This is probably the safest bank right now."

In other news, a law enforcement official said Wednesday that the FBI was examining IndyMac's failure and whether fraudulent lending practices hastened its collapse. The official asked not to be named because the probe is ongoing.

The FBI has said it is investigating 21 corporate lenders and mortgage companies for fraud and other crimes, but it declined to confirm whether IndyMac was one of them.

IndyMac had been a leader in "alt-A" mortgages, which were made to borrowers with decent credit who often weren't required to verify their incomes to get the loans.

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andrea.chang@latimes.com

Times staff writers Richard Schmitt in Washington and E. Scott Reckard contributed to this report.

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