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Trial of ex-bank officer begins in federal court

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    Roberts

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    BIZ cabelas25p The doors are shuttered following a fire at Cabela's in Dundee, Wednesday, April 24, 2013. The Blade/Andy Morrison

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After Cabela’s opened its giant superstore in Dundee, Mich., in 2000, Fifth Third Bank wanted to get in on the development boom that followed in Monroe County.

And, after then-Fifth Third loan officer Paulette Roberts helped secure commercial loans on four projects near Cabela’s, she wanted to get in on the profits that followed, federal prosecutors maintain.

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Roberts

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Ms. Roberts, 56, of Sylvania went on trial Wednesday in U.S. District Court, where she is charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, bank bribery, and 41 counts of money laundering stemming from the real estate deals in Dundee.

After two days of jury selection, jurors got a preview of the case Wednesday morning as Robert Kern, an assistant U.S. attorney, presented his opening statements.

Judge Jeffrey Helmick told the jury that defense counsel for Ms. Roberts had reserved the right to present its opening statements after prosecutors conclude their case.

In his opening statement, Mr. Kern painted a picture of a greedy bank officer who made false statements on loan documents, who omitted key information on those documents, and who got involved in a scheme to enrich herself in connection with four projects near Cabela’s: Stonebrook of Dundee, Park Development, Dundee Crossings, and Dundee Crossings II.

He said that before Ms. Roberts left Fifth Third late in 2006 to take a different job, she cut deals with her clients through which she was to have been paid $300,000 when two of the properties sold.

“At the time she’s processing these loans, she’s got an agreement with one of the borrowers that she’s going to get paid,” Mr. Kern told the jury. “I’m not talking about her salary from the bank. I’m talking about getting paid by the borrower. She knows she’s going to be taken care of down the road.”

Ultimately, Mr. Kern said, Ms. Roberts was paid $100,000 in payments made to a limited liability company she set up called Higher Ground Enterprises LLC.

She used that money to buy cars, to travel, and to work with an architect on designs for her dream home.

In mid-2007, when she learned she wouldn’t be getting all the money she’d planned on, Mr. Kern said, she told her architect they would have to scale back the house plans “because the cash register is going off.”

Crucial testimony in the government’s case is expected to come from one of the borrowers with whom Ms. Roberts allegedly conspired: real estate developer Giuseppe Cangialosi, who pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in November, 2012. Cangialosi has not been sentenced.

Ms. Roberts who was employed by the former Toledo Trust Co. and later KeyBank before joining Fifth Third in 2001, was promoted at least twice at Fifth Third, ultimately becoming a vice president and senior loan officer in 2004.

In 2006, Mr. Kern said, she began looking for a new job and joined La-Z-Boy as its director of credit. She no longer is employed there.

“You’re probably asking yourself, why would someone who’d been in the banking industry for 20 years, who’d been a senior vice president, why would someone do this?” he asked. “We submit the evidence in the case will show that the reason she did it is simple: for money.”

The trial is expected to last up to two weeks.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.

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