A bank investor with experience creating and selling financial institutions has purchased a large stake in Liberty Bell Bank (LBBB) in Marlton, N.J.
Ken Lehman disclosed in a Feb. 1 letter to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. that he had reached an agreement with another shareholder to raise his stake in the bank to 27.8%. He wrote in the letter that the deal, which closed last month, would constitute a legal change in control at Liberty Bell.
For now, Lehman has no "present intention to change management at all" or to request a board seat. "I have had a very pleasant conversation with Kevin" Kutcher, Liberty Bell's president, Lehman said in an interview Friday. "It is a pretty impressive board."
This is not the first large bank transaction for Lehman. Last year, the Arlington, Va., investor orchestrated a buyout of First Capital Bancorp (FCVA) in Glen Allen, Va. His letter to the FDIC disclosed a 5% stake in Virginia Commerce, which snagged a large premium last month by agreeing to sell itself to United Bankshares (UBSI) for $491 million. Lehman is Virginia Commerce's corporate secretary and a director.
"We view it as a vote of confidence," Kevin Kutcher, Liberty Bell's president, said in an interview. Lehman "has a good track record getting involved with community banks. We are looking forward to what could be a longstanding investor relationship."
A spokesman for the FDIC declined to comment.
Lehman has a history of forming, and selling, banks since leaving Luse Lehman Gorman Pomerenk & Schick, where he was a partner, in early 2002. He disclosed in his letter to the FDIC that he has an 11% stake in Florida Traditions Bank in Dade City, Fla., which bought Providence Bank, a Winter Haven, Fla., bank that he co-founded in 2005.
In 2003, he co-founded Cactus Commerce Bank in Phoenix, which was sold to Community Bancorp in Las Vegas in late 2006 for $13.3 million. In 2005, he helped form Graystone Bank in Harrisburg, Pa., which merged with Tower Bancorp in Harrisburg, Pa., in 2009, and was in turn sold to Susquehanna Bancshares (SUSQ) in Lititz, Pa.
In his letter with the FDIC, Lehman said he bought almost 565,000 shares of Liberty Bell stock from Beneficial Mutual Bancorp (BNCL) at an undisclosed price. Based on Liberty Bell's closing price of $1.15 a share on Thursday, the stake could have a value of nearly $650,000. Lehman previously had a roughly 9.5% stake in the $174 million-asset bank.
Beneficial is a Philadelphia company that gained the Liberty Bell stake after a controversial borrower defaulted on loans backed by the bank's stock. The borrower group included Michael Kwasnik, a former Liberty Bell chairman who was indicted in late 2011 for allegedly stealing more than $1 million from a 96-year-old woman. Kwasnik also tried on several occasions to take over the bank, according to regulatory filings.
"We genuinely look at it as though the sun is coming up," Kutcher said. "The Kwasnik experience was rocky and distracting at best. … We think someone like Lehman would reasonably do anything to benefit the organization."
Beneficial had been marketing the roughly 760,000 shares of Liberty Bell stock it owned to investors and had identified Lehman and other parties to buy the shares in sales that closed last month, said Thomas Cestare, Beneficial's chief financial officer.