Making It Big

The big boys from Denver buy a little bank in booming Parker.

Six months ago, Parker's quintessential local bank--the Community Bank of Parker--was quietly bought by a group of investors with ties to Colorado's largest homebuilder. It's one more indication that Parker is booming, and the state's most prominent businessmen are taking advantage.

In the past two years, three of Parker's four banks have been bought by non-local investors and companies. First National Bank was bought by Norwest in early 1995. Then came the Community Bank acquisition late last year. Now the state banking board has approved a merger between Kiowa State and the larger Mountain Parks Bank, a regional chain in other small communities such as Evergreen and Conifer.

But because Community Bank retained its name, not everyone knows the bank has changed hands or that, while the bank calls itself locally owned, few of its owners actually live in Parker. Some of those who do know the bank has new owners are not all that happy. After longtime bank president Sandy Herzog left in May, the Parker Breakfast Club, a group of locals that meets every Monday to hear speakers, voted to withdraw its rather small account from Community Bank in protest.

"It was a symbolic gesture in favor of keeping local institutions local," says president Cindy Murphy. "There's a strong feeling in Parker to try to keep this as a town. It's important to many people here that institutions remain here."

Adds treasurer Jimmy Shauer, "I thought it was going to continue to be a community bank, but then they let the president go, and that upset a lot of people. We were all upset about banks buying up banks."

The provocative group of investors who purchased the bank for $5.5 million has strong ties to mega-developer Larry Mizel, who runs MDC Holdings, which owns Richmond Homes, one of the country's largest homebuilders and already a major presence in the Parker area. Community's banking rivals see the competition for business about to heat up; until now, the bank had been a small player in the county.

New bank chairman Robert Graf is the former head of Omnibancorp, the holding company of the Mizel-owned Omnibank chain. Shareholders Hal Guzofsky, Emil Hecht and Community Bank president Hank Coll also used to be part of Omni before the chain was sold to Key Bank of Cleveland for an estimated $123 million in 1994. And shareholder David Mandarich is president of Richmond Homes, "far and away the dominant builder in the Douglas County area," says David Laffone, president of Home Builders Research.

Now they've come to Parker, a town with an average household income of almost $60,000, in the heart of fast-growing Douglas County. Neither Mizel nor Mandarich returned repeated phone calls. Michael Guzofsky, son of Hal Guzofsky--who declines interview requests--says the new owners are "prominent people who want to retain as much anonymity as possible."

Mandarich was forced to resign as president of MDC in the late Eighties after allegations from the Securities Exchange Commission that he reported inflated profits from 1985 through 1987. The SEC settled the case in 1989, and Mandarich was retained as an MDC "consultant" at a salary of $480,000 a year; he subsequently was appointed president of Richmond Homes.

In the early Nineties Mandarich and Mizel both came under investigation of allegations that MDC illegally coerced subcontractors to contribute money to political campaigns and then reimbursed them by ordering them to submit inflated invoices. Recipients allegedly included then-U.S. Representative Hank Brown and presidential contender Gary Hart. Federal Judge Richard Matsch threw out the case in June 1992, but three MDC employees pled guilty, including Gary Mandarich, David's brother.

Another Community Bank shareholder is Phil Winn, former Colorado Republican Party chairman and assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1981 and 1982. After leaving HUD, Winn was part of what became known as the Winn Group, a collection of former agency officials turned developers who received more than $160 million in federal tax breaks and subsidies from HUD. Winn pled guilty in 1993 to one criminal-conspiracy count for making illegal payments to two HUD officials between 1985 and 1987. He served no jail time but paid a whopping $981,975 in fines.

The multiple connections to Mizel have some thinking that he is involved with Community Bank. Mizel is not one of the shareholders, though, and he signed a non-competition contract with Key Bank at the time of the sale, in August 1994, which stated that for three years after the closing date, the MDC chief would not "directly or indirectly serve in any capacity, or otherwise affiliate with any 'Insured Depository Institution' or any 'Depository Institution Holding Company.'"

Others think Mizel might be waiting in the wings. "I would suspect it, but I have not heard it," says Augie Fischer, former president of the Bank of Douglas County, which was bought this past March by First Bank of Colorado. "I'm sure legally there's no way he's involved. He's gonna make sure his fingerprints are clean." However, Fischer says it's likely Mizel will get involved in some way once the non-competition pact expires. "Is the sun gonna come up in the east? Those are the people he knows. I would be surprised if he didn't."

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