The National Credit Union Administration has slapped its second-worst performance rating on the industry's largest corporate credit union.

A wide range of sources, ranging from Wescorp insiders to agency figures, said they believe the NCUA is seeking to punish or oust outspoken WesCorp chief executive Richard Johnson, whose investment strategies are too aggressive for the regulator's comfort.

"They're gunning for Dick Johnson," said one industry source.

Bob Loftus, NCUA director of public and congressional affairs, declined to comment on Wescorp's downgrading, citing federal law.

"Wescorp is solvent and has adequate liquidity to meet member needs," Mr. Loftus said. "We are confident Wescorp will address issues raised by the NCUA and continue to effectively fulfill its role as a liquidity center."

At June 30, Wescorp had $13.1 billion of assets and an investment portfolio of $12.9 billion, according to Callahan & Associates, a Washington-based consulting firm. The investment portfolio's market value was 99.1% of book value.

Wescorp spokeswoman Tena Lozano declined to comment on the institution's performance rating or its examination. She said, however, that different financial consultants have reviewed Wescorp's operations and found it well- managed.

The most recent prominent example of that was a study last year by accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand.

But examiners apparently were unsatisfied by efforts at the institution to reshuffle its investment portfolio according to terms laid out in a 1995 examination, sources said. Then the NCUA decided that the corporate was unable to keep an undisclosed amount of devalued investments in its "hold- to-maturity" accounting category.

The Camel performance-rating system grades corporates according to capital, assets, management, earnings, and liquidity on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the lowest score.

Wescorp last month was given a 4 rating, a downgrading from the 3 it received last year, sources said.

Specifically, Wescorp received a 4 in the management category. According to agency policy, a 4 in that section allows examiner to drag down the overall score to that level.

An institution with a 4 rating is placed under tight supervision and monitoring and, often, the board is urged to change management.

If Mr. Johnson were to leave, the regulator then would have veto power over his successor.

The agency has clamped down on corporates ever since Congress criticized it for missing numerous red flags before the failure last year of Capital Corporate Federal Credit Union.

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