The past month saw two of Northern California's more notable bank failure cases of the last 10 years come to very different conclusions.
Saratoga Savings and Loan and the Bank of Los Gatos were both in affluent San Jose bedroom communities. Both banks went under in the late '80s, and both failures involved lengthy investigations.
That's where the similarities end.
Jess A. Rodrigues, former owner of Saratoga Savings and Loan, was found guilty March 15 of 19 counts of fraud and corruption. But in the Bank of Los Gatos case, a long-running investigation ended in failure for the government.
The case against Mr. Rodrigues, decided in San Jose by a federal jury, began more than a decade ago.
Saratoga Savings and Loan failed in 1989 and cost taxpayers at least $30 million. Mr. Rodrigues, who had a home in Santa Cruz County worth $5.95 million (it was seized in 1992), was accused of enriching himself and lying to regulators. But regulators had begun an investigation while the bank was still solvent.
Mr. Rodrigues' convictions stem from four real estate deals in which he received more than $1 million between 1985 and 1989. The jury also found him guilty of charges he took a $3.4 million tax refund that belonged to Saratoga Savings.
He has indicated he will continue to fight the charges, though neither he nor his lawyers could be reached for comment. He remains free on personal bond pending a June 24 sentencing hearing. A forfeiture hearing is set for June 10 to determine how much property Mr. Rodrigues will be forced to turn over to the government as restitution.
Mr. Rodrigues is being represented by Stephen Neal, who once represented Lincoln Savings and Loan's Charles Keating in his fight against California fraud charges.
In the Bank of Los Gatos case, four investors and a former Texas banker connected with the bank were acquitted Feb. 29 by U.S. District Court Judge James Ware of charges they had lied to regulators and misapplied funds in connection with the opening and running of the bank.
E. Robert Wallach, a San Francisco lawyer who represented one of the Los Gatos defendants, a doctor, said the government was out of bounds in going after individuals "unblemished in their public lives."
"What I have to wonder is what in the world is the government doing pursing people who have no previous criminal record and had already suffered considerably?" Mr. Wallach said.
"The court was pursuing them as though they were primary villains in the savings and loan disaster. Poor decisions may have been made, but that doesn't mean there was criminal intent."
In the four-year case, prosecutors tried to show that Thomas Oliver, president of Pebble Beach Co., and three other investors had cooperated with Texas savings and loan executive Robert H. Hopkins Jr. in setting up bogus loans that helped provide capitalization funds for Bank of Los Gatos.
Judge Ware ruled prosecutors failed to present evidence that the quintet had entered into secret agreements to defraud the bank.
Mr. Wallach said that since the savings and loan crisis broke in the 1980s, the public has softened on the issue.
"The bonfire mentality that was created in the media by the S&L crisis has begun to recede," Mr. Wallach said. Convictions are harder to get than two years ago, he said. "The climate has changed somewhat."