The $8.1 million Vensure Federal Credit Union, the Arizona credit union that at one time made most of its money by processing transactions for Internet poker sites, is no more.
The NCUA announced it has liquidated the Mesa-based credit union on July 11, the same day a court case the CU brought to prevent a liquidation seemed to be drawing to a close.
“NCUA made the decision to close Vensure FCU and discontinue its operation after determining the credit union was insolvent and has no prospects for restoring viable operations” the agency announced, adding that at the time of liquidation the credit union served 140 members and had deposits of approximately $8.1 million. The agency had conserved Vensure on April 15.
But the one-page announcement failed to convey the complexity behind the closing chapter in what had been one of the oddest credit union histories on record.
Vensure began its life in 1955, far from the Arizona desert, as the Greater Adirondack Federal Credit Union in upstate New York. At the time, the field of membership had been members of a fraternal lodge that had gradually failed, according to NCUA spokesman Todd Harper.
“As the field of membership shrank, the credit union, in essence, risked becoming defunct. Consistent with NCUA’s policies, the board of directors of Grand Adirondack then applied for and received a new field of membership to serve the members of Vensure Employer Services in Mesa, Ariz., and the company’s subsidiaries,” Harper explained in the days immediately after the agency first took over Vensure.
In fact, as court documents later showed, the story of how Greater Adirondack of upper New York State became Vensure of Mesa was a little more complicated.
According to NCUA filings in a court case Vensure brought to contest its liquidation, some of which were redacted, the small credit union that had first popped up on the agency's radar when an organization in New York City, the National Investors Financial Education Association, applied for credit union services through GAFCU in 2008. Then, after the CU was granted permission to add the new field or membership, it appeared to almost drop off the map, according to the agency.
“NCUA was completely unaware of any intended move by GAFCU and caught off guard by the news because not only did GAFCU fail to convey its intention before it moved, it also elected not to notify NCUA first after it moved,” the agency said in its filing.
Then ensued, according to NCUA, an almost comic search around the country for the true location of the CU. As part of the search, the agency recounted that its staff phoned or visited locations in New York, Florida and Texas before they finally caught up with GAFCU, now headquartered in the small Arizona town of Gilbert.
By this time the CU, which the agency said previously had called “self-liquidating,” had increased its assets to $2.1 million. Its balance sheet swelled with fee and other operating income from two CUSO's: Account Process Systems and Verartis Inc., which offered financial transaction and financial counseling services.
But by the time GAFCU applied for and received permission to change its name to Vensure FCU, the NCUA said it had learned that the income had not come from transaction processing or financial counseling but from the “legally suspect source” of processing transactions for Internet poker sites.
The NCUA moved to conserve the credit union came after the owner of its largest deposit account, the Trinity Global Commerce Corp., was seized by the government as part of a crackdown and closure of major online poker sites. Then Vensure sued the agency to fight the conservatorship and liquidation.
The question over the legality of online poker and transacting payments for online poker largely muddled the court proceedings, with the CU arguing that it had provided the agency with many legal opinions justifying the legality of processing online poker transactions and that it had complied with the agency's order to cease and desist from them. The agency countered that it had not done so fast enough and remained at risk.
In the end U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer appeared to side firmly with the agency, showing as revealed in a redacted NCUA filing, that she had sided with the agency.
“The business model collapsed in a heartbeat [after the seizure],” the NCUA quoted Collyer as saying from the bench. “Since there were inevitably and always empty returns as I've labeled them, meaning money handling that came back with insufficient funds, Vensure was left with the obligation to pay up on those and no access to Trinity monies, exactly the risk foreseen by NCUA and not previously experienced by Vensure,” the agency quoted Collyer as adding.
In the end, the court case appeared to end much as the CU did, with a whimper more than a bang. The courts final orders on record as of press time, are for both sides to submit versions of an order the court can publish publicly because so much of the order prepared so far has had to be redacted.