BB&T investigator says she was fired for not covering up fraud

Corporate investigator alleges company wanted her to be complicit in real estate fraud

Dec. 7--A former corporate investigator for BB&T filed suit Thursday against North Carolina's third-largest bank, saying the company fired her in June for refusing to participate in the coverup of a $20 million loan fraud.

Amy Stroupe, a sheriff's detective before she was hired by BB&T in 2005, said the loans were made as part of a failed real estate development in western North Carolina.

The development, the Village of Penland, collapsed in May with investors owing banks an estimated $120 million.

The banks involved in the development said they were duped, but Stroupe claims BB&T participated in the fraud by lending money for lots that were clearly overvalued. She said more than 120 BB&T loans used the same appraiser and lawyer and a picture of what appeared to be the same mountain lot.

She alleges that she was fired, in part, for contacting the Federal Bureau of Investigation and insisting that all details be turned over to them. Stroupe said she knew her investigation had upset some supervisors but that she was still shocked by their reaction.

"I was floored," she said. "I guess I thought if I was doing something wrong I would have received a written warning or something."

BB&T spokeswoman A.C. McGraw said the bank has not seen the suit, which was filed in Cleveland County Superior Court, and could not comment on it. The BB&T office involved in the complaint is in Cleveland County.

Stroupe's complaint is the second lawsuit filed in the past month claiming banks were involved in fraudulent loans involving the Mitchell County development.

Another suit filed against the developers earlier this year was amended in November to add BB&T, First Charter of Charlotte, Carolina First of Greenville, S.C., and United Community Banks of Georgia as defendants. That suit, filed by individual investors, was filed in Wake Superior Court.

BB&T has denied the allegations in that suit. "We are confident that over the course of the proceedings we will be vindicated," McGraw said.

Stroupe's complaint addresses only BB&T, saying she was wrongfully terminated and suffered emotional distress. She accuses the company of defamation, saying the firing will make it difficult for her to return to a successful career in law enforcement.

In building her argument for those charges, she alleges that BB&T was guilty of criminal acts such as obstructing justice, making false statements to law enforcement agents and deceptive trade practices. The suit, handled by James, Hoyer, Newcomer & Smiljanich of Tampa, Fla., names only the bank as a defendant.

Smelling a rat

Stroupe's involvement in the case began in February. That is when a BB&T employee at a branch office in Shelby got a call from an employee of the Peerless Development Group asking that money be transferred from the developer's account to individual lot holders at Penland.

Peerless was the developer for a proposed community of exclusive homes and businesses that developers were promoting.

"The employee asked if the developer wanted to make a full payment on the individual accounts or just sort of catch them up," Stroupe said in an interview. "The Peerless employee said to just catch them up so as not to raise any suspicion. The first employee thought that was sort of weird ... and a second employee decided he should review some of the files."

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