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Tuesday, Jun 6, 2023

Pasadena-Based East West Bancorp Takes $54 Million Hit Tied to Solar Ponzi Scheme

East West Bancorp., parent of East West Bank, the largest independent bank headquartered in Southern California, disclosed in a regulatory filing Wednesday that it has a $53.9 million exposure related to a potential Ponzi scheme identified by the FBI.

The exposure relates to its investments in mobile solar generators sold and managed by DC Solar between 2014 and 2018. DC Solar filed for federal bankruptcy protection this month, following an FBI agent raid at the company’s Benicia, Calif.-based headquarters in December that revealed an alleged scheme whereby new investors were used to pay off old ones. The FBI described a Ponzi-like scheme involving potentially hundreds of millions of dollars.

The East West Bancorp exposure was disclosed in a 10-K filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Feb. 27. A spokeswoman with the Pasadena-based bank declined to comment on the matter beyond pointing to Wednesday’s SEC filing.

According to the filing, DC Solar had its assets frozen by the FBI in late December, and subsequently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In the proceedings, the FBI declared that DC Solar was operating a Ponzi scheme, noting that DC Solar did not manufacture all of the mobile solar generators sold to investors.

“The company is evaluating the possibility of recording an uncertain tax position liability in 2019 with regards to its investments in mobile solar generators sold and managed by DC Solar and its affiliates,” according to the filing made by East West Bancorp.

The filing states that an affidavit from the FBI alleges that DC Solar was operating a “fraudulent ‘Ponzi-like scheme’ and that the majority of mobile solar generators sold to investors and managed by DC Solar and the majority of the related lease revenues claimed to have been received by DC Solar may not have existed.”

The filing also says that “certain investors in DC Solar, including the company (East West), received tax credits for making these renewable resource investments.”

East West claimed tax credit benefits of roughly $53.9 million between 2014 and 2018, according to the filing. “If the allegations set forth in the declaration filed by the FBI are proven to be accurate, up to the entire amount of the tax credits claimed by the company (East West) could potentially be disallowed.”

Christopher McGratty, a banking analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, wrote in a research note late Wednesday “the market’s reaction to this announcement may be fairly limited.”

East West shares closed at $55.37 on Wednesday, up 69 cents, or 1.26 percent.

Finance reporter Pat Maio can be reached at pmaio@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 556-8329.

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