The unusually severe storm that flooded New Orleans last week proved that even safe deposit boxes aren't always safe.

The more than 20 inches of rain that deluged the city in less than 24 hours and eventually led to six deaths also wreaked havoc on the area's banking community. All of the banks in the city shut down last Wednesday - the worst day of the storm - and all but one had shut down the previous day.

That one open bank was the $3 billion-asset Whitney National Bank. The bank nevertheless was hit hard by the storm, reporting that 10 of its 49 branches were flooded, as were air tubes for some of its drive-thru windows.

Water also leaked into some of the bank's safe deposit boxes - located in the bowels of a branch. A Whitney executive said many of the boxes there probably had not been rented, however. "We think that most of those were empty . . . because people around here are familiar with flooding," said Susan Koch, senior vice president and director of marketing.

The bank has already issued about 20 short-term loans at below-market rates for customers and employees to help tide them over, it said. It is also helping to distribute Red Cross clean-up kits at its various branches.

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Once a consultant, always a consultant.

John Lyons, a prominent New York bank consultant, is once again giving advice for a price after a 16-month-stint running a bank.

The 55-year-old Mr. Lyons opened Lyons Advisors this month, several weeks after Florida's Jupiter-Tequesta National Bank was sold to a larger institution, .

The firm, which has offices in New York City and Juno Beach, Fla., already has three clients, Mr. Lyons said.

Mr. Lyons became a banker after his consulting contract with Lyons, Zomback & Ostrowski expired at the end of 1993. He owned about 10% of the Tequesta-based bank and was putting his own advice to work when First United Bancorp of Boca Raton made an offer the board couldn't refuse.

How would Mr. Lyons rate his advice after applying it himself?

"Some of it proved to be good some of it proved not so good," he said.

Mr. Lyons put into practice products and services he advocated like brokerage and annuity services and Small Business Administration lending. He said they worked well.

He also tried offering a variety of deposit products.

"The fancy deposit instruments . . . prove to be needlessly confusing to your customers," Mr. Lyons said.

***

The bizarre story of a loan scam that rocked northern Virginia banking circles and reportedly led to two suicides is nearing an end.

A McLean, Va., loan broker recently pleaded guilty to having defrauded four banks of $1.4 million. The woman, a 39-year-old Korean national named Kum Ja Ridler, bribed officers of two banks by offering sex, gold Rolexes, and other kickbacks to obtain the fraudulent loans, according to The Washington Post.

One of those officers, Kenneth LeBrun of Federal Savings Bank of Virginia, Falls Church, committed suicide the day he was to appear for sentencing for having approved $922,000 in bad loans. He was found dead in a hotel room after ingesting a lethal dose of horse tranquilizers.

Another figure in the tale, an associate of Ms. Ridler, committed suicide by slashing his wrists and throat with a razor blade, after learning that federal agents were investigating a bad loan for which his name was used. Kent Larson, the loan officer of another institution stung by the scam, McLean-based NVR Savings Bank, was sentenced last fall to 18 months in prison.

Ms. Ridler, who faces up to 30 years in prison, also was accused of using false tax returns, inflated salaries, and bogus stationery to obtain loans for her clients, primarily members of the local Korean community.

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