The Chicago bank that provides currency exchange services throughout O'Hare International Airport kept such sloppy records that examiners could not tell whether it was solvent, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. says.

Highland Community Bank engaged in practices that were "likely to cause insolvency or significant dissipation" of its assets and earnings, the FDIC said in a cease-and-desist order. It instructed the Highland Community Co. subsidiary to straighten out its books.

In addition, an unusually specific provision told the $282 million-asset bank not to get into the business of providing depository services for O'Hare's parking facilities or vendors at the airport without specific FDIC approval.

The order was issued Dec. 13 but released to the public Tuesday.

George Barr, who took over as president and chief executive officer on Tuesday - and declined to say when his predecessor, George R. Brokemond, had left - minimized the problem Thursday.

Mr. Barr said that the foreign-currency problems have been solved, and that the state-chartered bank has addressed the other regulatory matters. In particular, he said an FDIC requirement that gave the bank until Monday of this week to adjust its general ledger and debug software it uses for its foreign-currency exchange business had been met.

"This is a temporary cease-and-desist, and my expectation is that it will be lifted soon," Mr. Barr said. "I don't expect to see a permanent C and D ordered. We've brought ourselves into line with their order."

Mr. Barr said the airport foreign exchange services, which the bank has been providing for a year and a half, are only a small part of its business. He declined to say what businesses the bank was pursuing or plans to pursue.

"Strategic planning is certainly one of the areas I'll focus on," he said, "but not on my third day."

The cease-and-desist order said Highland's records were "so incomplete or inaccurate" that the FDIC was unable to determine its financial condition. It cited discrepancies, many of them related to the foreign-currency exchange business, in Highland's books and records. It told the bank that it must straighten out its books by reconciling all out-of-balance accounts or charging off any account differences that originated before Oct. 5, 1999.

The regulator also ordered Highland to hire qualified management, add staff and oversight at its data-processing center, and form a four-member compliance committee of outside directors to make sure the orders are implemented.

An FDIC spokesman declined to discuss the case. But an Illinois regulator said the FDIC was concerned that Highland might take on more business than it could handle.

"The bank was experiencing existing problems, and they didn't want them to assume more additional duties until they were able to get their existing difficulties straightened out," said Scott Clarke, assistant commissioner of the Illinois Office of Banks and Real Estate.

Monique Bond, a spokeswoman with the Chicago Aviation Department, said Highland is operating foreign-currency stations at the airport under a contract that runs through Dec. 31, 2002. However, the bank must get an extension of the contract every year to continue doing business at the city-owned airport. Its existing extension runs through Dec. 31 of this year.

"This hasn't been a problem from our perspective," Ms. Bond said. "The airport and customers have not been affected. These are internal problems they're facing that need to be rectified. We're looking forward to their being rectified."

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