The National Credit Union Administration has seized an Oklahoma credit union that was considering converting to a thrift charter.

The agency blamed inattentive management at Tulsa-based OneOk Employees Credit Union, saying the institution's leaders let soaring operating costs deplete capital.

The agency has wrested control of a credit union only twice this year. In 1993 it imposed seven conservatorships, and five are still in effect. The agency plans to run OneOk until it can be restored to financial health.

In a release, NCUA regional director John S. Ruffin said the agency acted to protect member accounts and credit union assets. "As soon as the credit union is a viable institution, it will be returned to the control of its members," the release said.

OneOk had been under regulatory scrutiny for a year, according to NCUA's director of public and congressional affairs, Bob Loftus. The agency decided last week that the institution "had deteriorated to a point where it needed to be conserved," he said.

The agency has taken a hard line against credit unions converting to thrifts, but Mr. Loftus denied that the credit union's plans to switch charters had anything to do with the agency's decision to seize it.

Ironically, the same day the NCUA board nabbed OneOk, it issued a proposal that would give it the power to deny charter conversions.

A lawyer working with OneOk on its possible conversion this week called the timing of the government's seizure "interesting."

Michael Ford, a partner in the Oklahoma City-based law firm of Sellers, Snider, Blankenship, Bailey & Tippens, said the credit union has explored changing charters off and on since 1992.

"They [NCUA] didn't come in and say we're doing this because you're thinking of changing your charter," Mr. Ford said. "They had other grounds and bases they used. Whether they're serious enough to merit action, one has to wonder."

Mr. Ford said the credit union was considering a conversion because, serving a statewide customer base, it believed it could branch easier as a thrift.

Fees Seen Pushing Up Costs

OneOk spent more than $300,000 in consulting and legal fees to explore the conversion route, Mr. Loftus said. This helped push operating expenses of the $30 million-asset credit union past its peer group, he said. Mr. Loftus wouldn't disclose the credit union's operating expenses so far this year.

Mr. Ford said he didn't know the credit union's total expenditures and he wouldn't comment on how much he was paid.

In December 1993, the credit union's operating expenses totaled $1.2 million, according to figures from Callahan & Associates, a Washington-based consulting firm. That's up slightly from 1992's $1.1 million operating expenses.

Rising operating expenses bit into OneOk's capital, which Mr. Loftus said fell to about 5%.

"It's not low capital, but it had been steadily declining" this year, Mr. Loftus said.

In 1993 the credit union had $1.9 million in capital, for a capital-to-assets ratio of 6.2%; in 1992 it had $1.7 million for a ratio of 5.8%.

The credit union's earnings had been declining since 1992, Mr. Loftus said. In 1993 OneOk earned $258,400, down from $372,400 in 1992.

OneOk also had been without a president or manager since November 1993, Mr. Loftus said.

Duane Pickle, chairman of the credit union, did not return phone calls for comment.

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