Last updated: March 13. 2014 12:02AM - 4068 Views
By - jlynott@timesleader.com

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WILKES-BARRE — The agency overseeing the Wilkes-Barre City Employees Federal Credit Union acknowledged Wednesday that the credit union based in City Hall is the focus of a criminal investigation.

FBI agents visited the credit union on the first floor of City Hall late last week and again Monday and Tuesday, said Sean Quinn, director of the FBI office in Scranton.

A spokesman for the National Credit Union Administration, the Alexandria-Va. based independent federal agency that charters, regulates and supervises the local credit union, assured members that their deposits are protected.

“NCUA is aware that law enforcement authorities are conducting an investigation that involves the credit union, and we are monitoring that situation closely,” agency spokesman John Fairbanks said. Deposits are insured by the National Credit Share Insurance Fund, he added.

The local credit union is not a city-run operation and pays rent for its City Hall office space. It had more than $41 million in assets and 2,262 members as of December 2013, according to the NCUA, including employees of the city and neighboring Plains and Wilkes-Barre townships.

The latest visit by the FBI followed the death Monday of the credit union’s longtime manager James Payne. The credit union’s attorney, Dominick Pannunzio, said in a prepared statement Tuesday that “Jim’s commitment to the service will continue and the credit union will remain open for business as usual.”

The credit union was chartered in 1960 and insured in 1971, according to the agency’s website.

It operates much like a bank, providing loans and accepting deposits. Money from its members is used for loans. It can offer lower interest rates on loans and higher rates for deposits because it is a not-for-profit operation. It has three employees and a board of directors elected by members.

Mike Wishnow of the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association in Harrisburg , the trade association for credit unions in the state, described the Wilkes-Barre City Employees FCU as “moderate sized” with good numbers. Its capital-to-assets ratio was 7.8 percent, anything above 7 percent is good, Wishnow said.

Its net income — its profit, essentially — fell to $81,091 in December 2013 from $177,179 from December 2012, according to the NCUA.

Still, Wishnow saw the net income numbers in a good light. “Being positive is always good,” Wishnow said.

Federal authorities investigated the Wilkes-Barre City Employees FCU in 1995 credit union in connection with the theft of $10,000.

Cheryl Murtha of Wilkes-Barre was suspended from her job with the credit union during the investigation. She pleaded guilty to stealing the money and in February 1996 was sentenced to one year probation. She was also ordered to pay a $500 fine, but not required to make restitution.

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