Florida bankers thought they had seen the last of Abel Holtz.
In 1994, engulfed in a political bribery scandal, the Miami millionaire was forced to step down as chairman of Capital Bancorp, one of south Florida's largest independent banks.
Now, however, some shareholders are charging that Mr. Holtz is still calling the shots, albeit from behind the scenes. After all, the shareholders note, his family continues to control 52% of the $1.8 billion- asset company's stock.
"As long as the Holtz family is connected with the bank, he's in charge," said Leonard Wien, a shareholder who has challenged Mr. Holtz's transfer of the bank to his family after his obstruction of justice conviction in 1994. "He started it and he called all the shots. ... The family does what he tells them to."
Mr. Wien and a group of Capital shareholders are fighting to force the Holtz family to give up control of the bank. Mr. Holtz's sons run the company.
A decision from the state on whether the family can retain control of the bank is expected as early as this week.
Federal regulators in December, in an unusually detailed consent agreement with Mr. Holtz, barred him from taking any of a laundry list of actions that would influence the governance of Capital.
He can't even talk about the bank with his wife, herself a major shareholder and a director.
His son Daniel M. Holtz is chairman and chief executive officer of Capital Bancorp and its lead Miami bank. Another son, Javier Holtz, is chairman of its Maryland bank.
But Mr. Holtz's attorney, John Douglas, and Capital Bank spokesman Bruce Rubin both emphatically deny that Mr. Holtz has had anything to do with the company since he resigned in October 1994.
"It made the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. uncomfortable that Abel Holtz sleeps with a board member and his son is the chairman," Mr. Douglas said.
The regulatory order "finally memorializes in writing what was agreed to a few years ago," Mr. Rubin said. "We haven't seen him or talked to him since 1994."
Capital was founded in 1974 by Mr. Holtz, and was a central element of his life in the United States. After fleeing Castro's Cuba in 1961, he became a multi-millionaire and one of the country's most prominent Cuban Americans. Miami even has a main thoroughfare that bears his name.
Mr. Holtz pleaded guilty in 1994 to lying to a grand jury during an investigation of former Miami Beach Mayor Alex Daoud. Mr. Daoud, who had once been an attorney for Capital Bank, was convicted in 1993 of taking bribes while in office, tax fraud and obstructing a grand jury investigation.
Mr. Holtz pleaded guilty to lying about monthly payouts he made to Mr. Daoud in the 1980s-of $1,000 to $1,500 for seven years. After pleading guilty to one count of obstruction of justice, Mr. Holtz spent one and a half months in prison and four and a half months under house arrest. He also performed 3,000 hours of community service.
Mr. Holtz resigned from the bank, transferring his ownership to his wife and sons, and embarked on a very public community service campaign.
But regulators apparently weren't satisfied. The FDIC and Office of Comptroller of the Currency issued cease-and-desist orders against Mr. Holtz in December and made them public late last month.
The orders, which prohibit Mr. Holtz from having any contact with Capital Bank in Miami and its sister bank, Capital Bank NA, in Rockville, Md., put in writing what Mr. Holtz had promised to do upon his resignation.
He can't talk with any other stockholder or influence how they vote; he can't receive internal performance reports; and he can't discuss the bank with "immediate family members."
Mr. Douglas, the Capital spokesman, acknowledges that it's difficult for Mr. Holtz not to discuss the bank with the family.
"I would say that he would be happier if it were otherwise; he understands why it is the way it is," Mr. Douglas said.
While the federal actions relate only to Mr. Holtz, a much awaited decision by the Florida Department of Banking and Finance could threaten the entire family's control of Capital.
An administrative law judge at the Florida Department of Banking and Finance is expected to hand down a decision as early as this week on the control of the bank to Mr. Holtz's wife and sons.
Mr. Wien and three other shareholders objected to the transfer on grounds that the family wasn't capable of running the bank. The dissident shareholders likened the transfer to an illegal seizure.
The state conducted hearings behind closed doors on the issue between August and November last year.
If the group is successful, Mr. Holtz's family could be forced to sell their shares to other shareholders or relinquish control of the bank to another bank acquirer.
One local observer said that would be a fitting end to the controversy.
"Other bankers would like to see it off the business page," said Kenneth H. Thomas, an independent bank analyst based in Miami."It doesn't reflect well upon the banking industry here and elsewhere."