WASHINGTON — After six months on apparent life support, BankUnited FSB was taken over by regulators late Thursday, and its operations were immediately sold to a team of investors headed by John Kanas, the former head of North Fork Bank.

The failure marked the end of a long, slow demise for the $13 billion-asset thrift company in Coral Gables, Fla.

It was easily the most expensive failure of 2009, and is expected to cost the Deposit Insurance Fund nearly $5 billion. It was the fourth-biggest thrift ever to fail, and the largest collapse this year.

Kanas and other investors agreed to assume $12.7 billion in assets and $8.3 billion in non-brokered deposits from the failed thrift, and start a new bank also called BankUnited.

The new owners and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. entered into an agreement to share losses on roughly $10.7 billion in assets. The new thrift will also provide $900 million in new capital. The FDIC said it will pay brokers directly for $348 million in deposits.

The Office of Thrift Supervision said the thrift was "critically undercapitalized and in an unsafe condition to conduct business." The agency said there were "no viable alternatives to return" the thrift to profitability.

Considered comatose after heavy losses on option adjustable-rate loans, BankUnited had been hanging on by a thread for months. The thrift was pummeled from losses tied to option adjustable-rate mortgages, despite an effort to convert many of its troubled ARMs into fixed-rate loans.

BankUnited, the largest institution chartered in Florida, failed to meet capital requirements imposed by regulators, first in a Sept. 19 cease-and-desist order by the OTS, and then in an April 14 prompt correction action notice. The second order had required that the thrift maintain a 4% Tier 1 capital ratio. It also gave BankUnited 20 days to sell itself or most of its assets.

But by April 17, the thrift had already shown it was in negative capital territory. In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing dated then, it said its ratio had fallen to negative-0.2% in the fourth quarter.

According to sources and published reports, several parties were engaged in the bidding process for the failed thrifts. The ownership team will include Kanas, W.L. Ross, Carlyle Investment Management, Blackstone Capital Partners, Centerbridge Capital Partners, LeFrak Organization, The Wellcome Trust, Greenaap Investments Ld., and East Rock Endowment Fund.

In its press release, the FDIC said that it will be providing policy guidance soon on the eligibility of private equity firms to purchase failing banks.

"Due to the interest of private equity firms in the purchase of depository institutions in receivership, the FDIC has been evaluating the appropriate terms for such investments," the agency said. "In the near future, the FDIC will provide generally applicable policy guidance on eligibility and other terms and conditions for such investments to guide potential investors."

BankUnited was the first institution to fail with over $10 billion in assets since the Nov. 21 closure of $12.8 billion-asset Downey Savings and Loan in California. But even before that, the failures so far in the crisis have been mostly of smaller institutions.

The two largest failures of the downturn both occurred last year: $30 billion-asset IndyMac Bank in Pasadena, Calif., and $307 billion-asset Washington Mutual Bank.

The resolution of BankUnited posed an important task for the FDIC. Following the difficult seizure of IndyMac, which the FDIC had to manage for months before finding a buyer, and the relatively smooth transfer of Wamu to JPMorgan Chase & Co., the Florida thrift presented the agency with the task of resolving a complicated failure by returning it to the private sector quickly.

The failure also marks the end of another large OTS-regulated institution. BankUnited is thought to have been among six thrifts that the Treasury Inspector General said were allowed by the OTS to backdate its capital levels.

The closure is also just another factor that will lead to a bigger premium burden for the industry.

The FDIC board is set to sign off Friday on a special assessment, expected to be near 5 cents for every $100 of assets minus capital, that is meant to help restore fund reserves.

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