Despite losing $4.5 million in the third quarter, Wintrust Financial Corp. in Lake Forest, Ill., reported record earnings for last year.

The $2.1 billion-asset company said late Monday that its earnings for the year rose 18% from a year earlier, to $11.2 million, or $1.25 per share. Fourth-quarter net income grew 36%, to $3.8 million.

Wintrust said its third-quarter loss was the result of fraudulent loans made by its premium finance subsidiary to an independent insurance agency in Florida. Through legal action, the company was able to recover $200,000.

Edward J. Wehmer, Wintrust's president and chief executive officer, said "2000 was a character-building year for us."

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