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Ten people charged in auto lease scams vs. CUs

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (9/11/12)--Ten people, including a Miami Beach, Fla., police officer, have been charged in an auto lease theft ring that defrauded credit unions in the area out of $500,000. Nine of the suspects have been arrested.

According to court records, members of the scam ring recruited straw buyers to either lease cars that were then illegally subleased, or to secure financing from credit unions for cars that had already been purchased and moved out of the country (Miami Herald and NBCMiami.com Sept. 7).

Charged with the scam are: 

  • Tomas Manrique, 51, owner of Wachovia Auto Sales;
  • Todd Javon Smith Jr.,  29, owner of Parelelas Motors;
  • Alexandra Olivera, a clerk at a private tag agency;
  • Miami Beach police officer George Robert Navarro;
  • Shanovia Maria Smith, 26, Pembroke Pines;
  • Nicholi O'Neil Smith, 37, Miramar;
  • Francis Elizabeth Hannan, 49, Lauderhill;
  • James M. Paul, 35, Sunrise;
  • Dennis Esther Matos Torres, 42, Miami;
  • Shannon A. Reid, 56, Boca Raton. Reid is still at large.
Law enforcement authorities alleged that Manrique and Todd Smith were the ringleaders and that the straw buyers would turn over the leased vehicles to them, and they would lease them to a third party.

The police officer, Navarro, entered a not guilty plea to charges of racketeering, organized fraud, making false statements and illegal subleasing. The affidavit alleged he went with Marion Mayoli into a Lexus dealership and was told by Mayoli to submit a misleading credit application. Navarro never took possession of the car, but allegedly handed it over to Todd Smith, who sold it. The lender lost more than $31,000, but the car was recovered, said NBCMiami.com.

Mergers update in Florida New York

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LAKELAND, Fla., and NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (9/11/12)--Members of two Florida credit unions last week approved mergers into a third credit union, while two Niagara Falls, N.Y.-based credit unions announced they plan to merge.

In Florida, members of Indian River FCU, Vero Beach, and Bay Pines (Fla.) FCU both voted in favor of a merger with the $1.65 billion asset, Lakeland-based MidFlorida CU. Of the votes cast, 84% of Indian River votes and 87% of Bay Pines votes were in favor of the merger (News-Sun Sept. 9).

Both credit unions began operating as a division of MidFlorida on Sept. 1, but the conversion of accounts will take place later.  The Indian River conversion is tentative scheduled for late 2012 or early 2013, while the Bay Pines conversion is slated for early 2013.

In New York, the boards of directors of two Niagara-area credit unions announced that Niagara County's FCU, with assets of $47 million and 9,500 members, will merge with the $77million asset Niagara's Choice FCU, effective Dec. 1 (WNYPapers.com Sept. 8).  Niagara's Choice serves nearly 13,000 members.

Combined assets of the surviving credit union will exceed 120 million and membership will total nearly 23,000 members.

Nancy Kasprzak-Whitmore, CEO of Niagara County's FCU, said Niagara Choice will promote the merger with "Niagara County's FCU is now Niagara's Choice."

Alfred Frosolone, CEO of Niagara's Choice FCU, said all employees are expected to remain with the credit union.

Two Niagara County's board members will join the existing board of Niagara's Choice, and two members of Niagara County's supervisory committee will join the same committee at Niagara's Choice.

Southeastern CUs continue record growth in 2Q

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala., and TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (9/11/12)--The upward trend of assets and membership for credit unions in Alabama and Florida continued in the second quarter,  and credit unions in these states saw an uptick in member business lending as well, said the League of Southeastern Credit Unions (LSCU).

Credit unions in Florida added $310 million in assets to set a record of $45.6 billion in assets. Alabama credit unions added $129 million in assets, and they, too, set a record--at $17.6 billion in assets.

Combined, the two states added 46,000 new members during second quarter. But a closer look at that numbers tells a great story, said LSCU.  For the past four quarters, Florida credit unions have added 143,000 new members for a record 4.68 million members, while Alabama credit unions added 51,000 new members during the period for a record 1.81 million members.

"Since the third quarter of 2011, credit unions in Alabama and Florida have been growing at a strong rate that is higher than the national credit union average," said LSCU President/CEO Patrick La Pine.

He attributed the growth "to the overall awareness of credit unions being raised. Individual credit unions are doing a great job of promoting their brand, while the league's Statewide Image Campaign and the consumers' attitudes toward big banks have been contributing factors."

Credit unions worked more with small businesses in the second quarter by issuing more member business loans (MBL), said the league. In Alabama, MBLs jumped more than 4%, which was greater than the national credit union average and nearly double the growth rate during the past two years. In Florida, MBLs grew 3% in second quarter, right at the national credit union average, but three times higher than two years ago.

The Credit Union National Association and credit unions are urging Congress to raise credit unions' MBL cap to 27.5% of assets from the current 12.25%  to enable more business loans to be made to boost the economy. CUNA estimates that raising the cap would inject $13 billion in new small-business loans into the economy and help create 140,000 new jobs the first year. The increase would come at no expense to taxpayers.

Six CUs employ videos humor in marketing the difference

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MADISON, Wis. (9/11/12)--Several credit unions and banks have released videos that range from serious, to comical, to wacky, to get messages about their financial institutions out to the public.

The videos, including six from credit unions, are highlighted in an article featured in thefinancialbrand.com (Sept.9). Use the link.

The credit union videos included in the article are from:

  • First Tech FCU, with $5.47 billion assets, based in Palo Alto, Calif. It boasts about its blog and how it doesn't act like a typical financial institution because it listens to its members.
  • Hollywood, Calif.-based First Entertainment CU, with $971 million in assets. Its video features an actor in a skit with a live goat, which is used as a metaphor for pointless bank fees.
  • Alabama Telco CU, a $589.2 million asset credit union in Hoover, Ala. The credit union created a 30-second music video with lifestyle images, but no information about accounts, products or financial services--just a quick tagline, "Better Rates."
  • Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Allegacy FCU, which uses a 30-second video linking the $960 million asset credit union with a peaceful Sunday morning outdoors, and how it is unlike a bank.
  • IC FCU, based in Fitchburg, Mass., with $454 million in assets, which produced a two-and-a-half minute video with Claymation-style  figures and repeatedly bleeps out their expletives. The tagline is "Savings … it's not a dirty word."
  • Coast Central CU, a $965 million asset credit union based in Eureka, Calif., which highlights gun enthusiast Stephanie Casey, a loan processor with the credit union for 13 years who also is a target shooting expert. She makes analogies between her hobby and processing loans--quick and accurate.

Illinois foundation awards 28750 in new grants

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NAPERVILLE, Ill. (9/11/12)--The Illinois Credit Union Foundation has awarded $28,750 in Small Credit Union Development (SCUD), Community Service, and Marketing and Business Development grants, bringing the total awarded for the year to more than $74,300.

SCUD grants totaled $17,250 and were awarded to 10 credit unions. Purposes for the SCUD grants included computer hardware and software, equipment and upgrades, and other operational needs. The recipients were:

  • Alton & Southern Railroad Employees FCU, East St. Louis;
  • CSX Chicago Terminal CU, Calumet City;
  • D-B Employees CU, Johnston City;
  • Decatur Policemen CU, Decatur;
  • Flossmoor CU, Homewood;
  • Menard (Ill.) CU
  • Mercer CU, Aledo;
  • Peoria Fire Fighters CU, Peoria;
  • Peru Municipal CU, Peru; and
  • United Catholic CU, Granite City.
The foundation also awarded $3,000 in community service grants. The program encourages and rewards chapter or credit union participation in local community projects. Credit unions and chapters can qualify for grants by hosting, creating or volunteering at an event. Blackhawk Area CU, Savanna, will use its grant to facilitate the Bonzai financial education project, and Oak Lawn Municipal ECU, Oak Lawn, was a recipient for its "Stock the Pantries" project.

Community service grants were provided to the Carolinas Credit Union Foundation and the Southeastern Credit Union Foundation for children's hospital service projects in Charlotte, N.C., and Tampa, Fla., respectively to help support credit unions' tradition of honoring each national political convention city with a "leave-behind" project to serve the local communities long after the conventions have ended.

Also, three credit unions received Marketing and Business Development grants that totaled $8,500.  They were: Three Rivers Community CU, Mt. Carmel; Valley Bell CU, Elgin; and Western Illinois CU, Macomb. These grants help credit unions with assets of up to $30 million to start or expand outreach efforts. The maximum grant award is $5,000 per credit union per year. Requested uses for the grants included support for a membership outreach event, a plan to provide service to a new community charter area, and a website upgrade for a community charter expansion.

One more grant request deadline remains this year--on Oct. 31. Scholarships are reviewed on an ongoing basis while funds last. Online and downloadable grant request forms are available via the Illinois Credit Union League's website. Eligibility is limited to Illinois credit unions and chapters.

CUNA Councils at 5500 membership milestone

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MADISON, Wis. (9/11/12)--Membership in the six CUNA Councils has surpassed 5,500 members, the Credit Union National Association announced Monday.

"Reaching this milestone is significant," says Erin Mendez, Council Forum chair and

executive vice president/chief operating officer at SchoolsFirst FCU in Santa Ana, Calif. "The councils provide credit union executives with a unique and active community where they can reach out to one another, grow professionally, and obtain education and resources that are specific to their role at the credit union."

The CUNA Councils include six focused areas of credit union responsibility, including

Marketing & Business Development, Human Resources Training & Development, (CFO) chief financial officer, Lending, Technology, and Operations Sales & Service. At the councils, credit union executives tap into a network of senior and middle management peers to connect, learn, advise and advance the credit union, the council member's career, and the credit union movement.

Starting Monday, the councils will begin accepting memberships for 2013. Those who join on or after Monday will have an active membership for the remainder of 2012 and all of 2013 for one price.

CU System briefs (09/10/2012)

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  • NEW BERLIN, Wis. (9/11/12)--Landmark CU, based in New Berlin, Wis., has reached the $2 billion in assets milestone.  CEO Ron Kase attributed the growth to several factors. "We continue to execute on our brand promise, which is all about bringing consistent value and convenience to our members. We do this in the form of great rates on loans and deposits, a very favorable fee structure, and we continue to offer excellent service. We have also had the great fortune over the past three years to complete mergers with 10 area credit unions, which has allowed us to offer additional branches and convenience to our members throughout communities in Southeastern Wisconsin." At $2 billion, Landmark is the largest credit union in the state and among the top 100 credit unions in the U.S., based on asset size. IT has 489 employees serving more than 193,000 members at 25 locations …
  • FEDERAL WAY, Wash., and BEAVERTON, Ore. (9/11/12)--The Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) has begun interviewing various Washington state and federal election candidates, including Washington Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna, shown here. He met with a group of about two dozen credit union advocates and indicated his support of the Washington State chartered credit union business and occupation (B&O) tax exemption and said he would work to resist sweeping of funds out of dedicated accounts into the state's general fund. He also expressed concern over the lack of economic literacy of teens and young adults (Anthem Recap Sept. 7).  NWCUA also scheduled interviews with seven other candidates for governor, state auditor, state attorney general, and Washington's lst Congressional District. (Photo provided by the Northwest Credit Union Association)…
  • FEDERAL WAY, Wash., and BEAVERTON, Ore. (9/11/12)--A five-alarm fire in North Portland early Sunday at a Red Lion hotel facility will not impact the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) 2012 Convention and Annual Business Meeting.  The fire destroyed a vacant building that was a former Red Lion hotel. It was being used as a storage facility for mattresses and furniture, said NWCUA (Anthem Recap Sept.7).  The convention is set for Oct. 2-4 at the Hilton Hotel in Vancouver, Wash. Because that hotel is fully booked, arrangements have been made for attendees at the Red Lion Hotel on the River in Portland, said the association.  Investigators still haven't determined the cost of the fire …

PCUA board OKs 160K to fund iBelong campaign

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (9/11/12)--The Pennsylvania Credit Union Association (PCUA) board of directors Friday authorized $160,000 from its service corporation, Pacul Services Inc., to fund new iBelong television commercials to be aired in 2013.

The new spots will focus on loans, based on PCUA member feedback that increased loan volume is a top priority, along with credit union awareness and the message that every Pennsylanvia resident can join a credit union (Life is a Highway Sept. 10). 

The iBelong campaign is a cooperative campaign coordinated by the PCUA with support from Pennsylvania credit unions designed to build awareness of credit unions and to assist consumers in finding a credit union .

iBelong spots will run in six of the seven major media markets in Pennsylvania.

Also, the PCUA's iBelong Tailgating Package promotion kicked off Monday in the Altoona/Johnstown and Berks/Lehigh Valley media markets.

The promotion runs for three weeks on WJAC-TV in Altoona/Johnstown, on WRFY's Y102 in Reading and on WAEB's B104 in Whitehall.

Members and potential members may enter a contest through the branches of participating iBelong credit unions, or online at the station's website. Each station's website will feature a listing of branch locations of participating credit unions and links to the credit unions' website.

Each station will draw one entry at random in early October. The winner will receive a pair of game day tickets to either a Philadelphia Eagles or Pittsburgh Steelers game, along with a travel grill, tailgating chair, grocery gift card, fan gear and iBelong logo wear.

Woman wins 10K grand prize in Michigan contest

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ISHPEMING, Mich. (9/11/12)--When Lynn Ylitalo, a member of Ishpeming (Mich.) Community FCU, clicked onto the credit union's website, her name was added to the more than 32,000 entries into Michigan's "Own Your Money" sweepstakes. Thursday she won the sweepstakes' $10,000 grand prize.

Lynn Ylitalo, grand prize winner of Michigan's $10,000 "Own Your Money" sweepstakes, celebrates with George Isola, general manager of Ishpeming Community FCU. (Photo provided by the Michigan Credit Union League)
"I was just doing my usual business on my credit union's website, when I saw the link to enter the sweepstakes, but I never actually thought I'd win," Ylitalo, 49, of Champion, Mich., said (Michigan Monitor Sept. 10). "With one child already in college, one about to begin college, and another not far behind, this prize is truly life changing. It means the world to be able to contribute to my children's education, and I owe it all to my credit union," she said.

"We were thrilled to find out one of our members was the big winner," said George Isola, general manager of the Ishpeming Community FCU. "I could do this every day--give out checks for $10,000."

The sweepstakes, which ran from May 14 to June 27, was part of the annual statewide campaign aimed at raising awareness about Michigan credit unions, said the Michigan Credit Union League. The campaign also launched the CU Link, the online portal for Michigan credit union information.

Members and non-members were invited to watch a video about credit unions to be entered into the drawing for the $10,000 grand prize. Many credit unions, including Ishpeming Community, also had direct links to the sweepstakes on their websites. In addition to the grand prize, more than a thousand instant prizes worth a total $20,000 were awarded.

Michigan credit unions recently awarded $700 to another member who was winner of the first of three promotions on the CU Link Facebook page. The current sweepstakes, "What would you do with $1,240?" runs through Sept. 23. The prize is $1,240. The sweepstakes highlights another benefit of credit union membership: lower auto loan rates, which can save members an average of $1,240 over the course of the loan.