The Washington Times - November 25, 2013, 02:33PM

First the boxes were filled with cigars. Then they were filled with cash.

U.S. officials announced Monday that an Ohio officer at U.S. Bank pleaded guilty to charges of bribery. Federal attorneys charge that Wilbur Tate III, 49, gave the bank’s debt-collection business to a private company in exchange for bribes that eventually totaled $24,000.


“Tate took bribes which began with expensive cigars and escalated to cash payments of as much as $5,000 per month disguised in cigar boxes,” said Christy Romero, the Special Inspector General for TARP (SIGTARP), which oversees the federal government’s financial bailout spending in the wake of the Great Recession.

Oxford Collection Agency, the firm that officials say bribed Tate, also gave him part of the funds they received from collecting on foreclosed debt.

“While the country struggled through the financial crisis, rather than collect the debts of TARP banks, executives at Oxford ripped-off TARP banks in a $12 million debt fraud scheme, and Tate shared in their spoils,” Ms. Romero said.

The federal government got involved because U.S. Bank’s parent company, U.S. Bancorp, has received almost $6.6 billion in assistance from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

But along with the bailouts came an effort to “wage an aggressive and coordinated effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes” that helped start the recession in 2008, officials said.

Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 18, and Tate faces up to five years in prison.