Douglas M. Lester, the Trans Financial Inc. chief executive who was fired two months ago, launched a bitter counterattack Monday against the Bowling Green, Ky., bank.
In a lawsuit, Mr. Lester charged Trans Financial, one of the largest bank companies in the state, with breaching his employment contract. Four board members, whom Mr. Lester alleges engaged in improper self-dealing, also were named as defendants.
The dethroned banker seeks at least $1 million in damages from his former employer.
"Plain and simple, this was a power play to take over control of Trans Financial," said Mr. Lester's lawyer, Donald L. Cox, in a written statement, "and the only person who stood in their way was Doug Lester."
The announcement of the lawsuit was made in a press conference held Monday afternoon in the Bowling Green Ramada Inn. Mr. Lester, 53, was not present and could not be reached for comment.
Trans Financial officials said they were dismayed by the suit but declined to comment on its merits.
"It's like a bad dream that won't go away," said Michael J. Moser, a Trans Financial executive vice president.
The lawsuit was the first response from the once high-profile Mr. Lester to his firing in early June. As recently as two years ago, he held prominent positions in the state, including chairman of the Kentucky Bankers Association, and he ran Trans Financial for 12 years.
A strong bottom line, however, had eluded the company in recent years, particularly as it ventured into nonbank businesses, such as the travel industry.
High expenses and poor performance, coupled with Mr. Lester's penchant for spending - on a twin-engine corporate jet, for example - ultimately led to his firing, senior officials and directors said.
But Mr. Lester alleges that he was the victim of a power struggle. His suit charges that one director, Frank Mastrapasqua, received more than $1 million from the bank annually in investment advisory fees and other business dealings.
Trans Financial's 1996 proxy disclosed that Mr. Mastrapasqua got $324,028 from the bank in fees in addition to smaller amounts in rental income. It's common for bank directors to have business relationships with their bank, so long as such ties are made public and deemed in the best interests of shareholders.
The suit also alleged that two directors, C. Cecil Martin and William B. Van Meter, objected to Trans Financial's push into the insurance business because they feared it would compete with their local insurance businesses.
Mr. Martin, whose agency sells insurance to the bank, responded, "I'm for the bank getting into insurance. It's probably the one area that makes sense for the bank to get into."
Director James D. Scott was also named in the suit.