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Saddle River Valley Bank Pays $8.2 Million for Laundering

Sept. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Saddle River Valley Bank, a community bank in New Jersey, will pay $8.2 million to settle claims that it violated anti-money-laundering laws by processing $1.5 billion in suspicious transactions, U.S. authorities said.

The two-branch bank, which closed last year, failed to properly monitor transactions for three currency exchange businesses in Mexico and one in the Dominican Republic from 2009 to 2011, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said today in a statement. The U.S. has warned that such businesses, known as casas de cambio, often launder the proceeds of narcotics sales.

SRVB willfully violated the Bank Secrecy Act, which requires adequate steps to prevent money laundering, according to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. The $8.2 million penalty represents most of the bank’s assets, which are valued at $9.2 million, according to Fishman.

“It’s pretty remarkable that a small community bank in suburban New Jersey was attracting more than a billion dollars in transactions with customers in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, and nobody thought it was too good to be true,” Jennifer Shasky Calvery, FinCEN’s director, said in a statement.

The bank failed to monitor transactions properly, file timely suspicious-activity reports, conduct sufficient due diligence on the casas de cambio, employ an experienced Bank Secrecy Act officer, adequately train workers or hire independent testers of its anti-money laundering program, according to Fishman.

Settlement Agreement

The case was investigated by Fishman’s office, FinCEN and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The settlement agreement was signed by SRVB President Ralph Valvano. SRVB agreed to pay a $4.1 million penalty and forfeit $4.1 million.

Center Bancorp Inc., based in Union, New Jersey, purchased the bank in August 2012 by assuming $85.6 million in deposits and $87.2 million in loans and securities, according to a bank statement at the time. SRVB bank ceased operations in 2012, according to FinCEN. Center Bancorp operates Union Center National Bank.

The former SRVB branches now operate as Union Center National Bank branches, according to Joseph Gangemi, vice president of investor relations at Center Bancorp. He declined to comment on the settlement.

Financier J. Christopher Flowers won approval from the U.S. Office of Thrift Supervision in October 2010 to buy SRVB in a rare bank takeover by a private-equity fund manager.

The case is U.S. v. $4,100,000 in U.S. Currency, 13-cv-05669, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).

To contact the reporter on this story: David Voreacos in Newark, New Jersey, at dvoreacos@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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