In one of the final steps toward resolving a 10-year dispute over the collapse of Rhode Island’s banking system in the early 1990s, FleetBoston Financial Group agreed Tuesday to pay a state agency $15.5 million to settle a claim that it contributed to the crisis.

Fleet paid the money to the Depositors Economic Protection Corp., a quasi-governmental agency established by Rhode Island’s legislature in 1991 to help restore more than $1.2 billion of uninsured deposits to individuals there.

A spokesman for Fleet, which was once based in Providence but has since moved to Boston, said the company reached the settlement “without acknowledging responsibility or wrongdoing.”

“We believe it was in the best interest of the state and of the company to put an end to this,” the spokesman said.

The settlement was reached on the 10th anniversary of Rhode Island’s financial crisis. In January 1991, newly inaugurated Governor Bruce Sundlun ordered the closure of 45 banks and credit unions whose deposits were insured by Rhode Island Share and Deposit Indemnity Corp., a private insurer on the brink of collapse.

Some of the smaller institutions that were closed qualified for federal deposit insurance and reopened within weeks. But 13 banks and credit unions never did, and about 30,000 people were stranded without access to $375 million of deposits. Depositors protested publicly, demanding access to their funds.

Fleet was accused of contributing to the mess by making two loans in the late 1980s: a $3.5 million loan to Heritage Loan and Investment Co. and a $1 million loan to Jefferson Loan & Investment Bank.

The Depositors Economic Protection Corp. alleged that Fleet’s loan to Heritage was a sham meant to aid Heritage president Joseph Mollicone Jr., and that the loan to Jefferson was used to mask that company’s financial condition.

Both companies defaulted on their obligations to depositors, toppling the Rhode Island Share and Deposit Indemnity Corp. and precipitating the broader financial crisis. Risdic was financed by the institutions it insured, and when it went under small banks and credit unions throughout the state were left vulnerable.

Mr. Mollicone was ultimately convicted for embezzling $12 million from Heritage depositors. He is serving a 30-year prison term.

The Depositors Economic Protection Corp. was organized to issue bonds, paid for by Rhode Island taxpayers, to raise the money to repay depositors. It has sued law firms, accountants, officers, directors, and lenders in connection with the crisis, collecting $180 million.

Its biggest settlement came in 1998, when Ernst & Young agreed to pay $103 million.


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