Lawmaker Tried to Aid Bank Partly Owned by Husband

By Binyamin Appelbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 14, 2009

A California congresswoman who this fall helped a bank partly owned by her husband seek government money has said she previously intervened with federal regulators to help clear the way for that bank to buy another firm.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has said she arranged a September meeting at the Treasury Department, where executives of OneUnited Bank of Massachusetts asked the government for money. In December, Treasury selected OneUnited, the nation's largest minority-owned bank, as an early participant in the bank bailout program, injecting $12.1 million.

Waters's husband, Sidney Williams, until recently sat on OneUnited's board of directors and owned company shares worth at least $500,000.

Waters said yesterday that both the investments and her advocacy were rooted in a commitment to minority-owned banks. She noted that she has disclosed her financial ties to OneUnited in required annual filings. And she said her actions this fall were intended to benefit all minority-owned banks.

Responding to articles in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal about her role in setting up the Treasury meeting, Waters said in a statement, "These articles have revealed only one thing: I am indeed an advocate for minority banks."

Waters's involvement with the bank dates at least to 2001, when the company, then called Boston Bank of Commerce, bought a minority-owned institution based in Los Angeles. Waters's husband owned shares in the latter firm and, after the acquisition, became a shareholder in Boston Bank of Commerce, according to Waters's congressional financial disclosure files.

The following year, Boston Bank of Commerce tried to buy a second minority-owned bank in Los Angeles. But that Los Angeles bank decided to sell to a bank from Illinois. Waters tried to block the deal. She said she did so because the Illinois bank was not minority-owned, and she argued publicly that the Los Angeles bank should remain minority-owned.

Waters said she contacted regulators at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to see whether the merger could be staved off.

"And I want you to know that I was involved in reaching out to the FDIC in particular when there was another bank that was about to be acquired by a major white bank out of Illinois," Waters said at a congressional hearing in 2007. "And basically, I was told that there was nothing that could be done."

Waters and other community leaders launched a campaign of public pressure that proved more successful. The Los Angeles bank, Family Savings, ultimately agreed to be acquired by Boston Bank of Commerce. The combined company renamed itself OneUnited.

In 2004, Waters and her husband both bought new shares in OneUnited. Waters sold her investment after half a year, according to her annual financial disclosure, but Williams maintained an investment and joined the company's board of directors. He remained on the board until recently.

Waters disclosed in May 2008 that her husband held two investments in OneUnited at the end of 2007, each valued at between $250,000 and $500,000. She reported that the investments had produced income of as much as $65,000 during 2007. Members of Congress have not yet filed financial disclosures for 2008, but Waters said in her statement yesterday that her husband remains an investor in the company.

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