Credit Union Manager Death Likely Suicide
Dominick P. Pannunzio, an attorney for the Wilkes-Barre City Employees Federal Credit Union, spoke over the phone with the cooperative's manager Jim Payne at about 10 a.m. on Monday, March 10.
Six hours later, the 50-year-old Payne fatally shot himself at his Bear Creek, Pa., home amid public reports that he was potentially being targeted in an FBI investigation of the $41 million, 2,626-member credit union.
“About 4 o’clock in the afternoon, they found him (at his home),” Pannunzio said March 12 in an interview with CU Times. “I was absolutely shocked.”
Pannunzio said he and other credit union officials were informed of Payne's suicide by Pennsylvania State Police on March 11.
During an emergency meeting of the Wilkes-Barre City Employees FCU board of directors on that Tuesday evening, March 12, Pannunzio was appointed to temporarily oversee the credit union's operations, comply with FBI and NCUA requests for information and be the cooperative's spokesperson.
Pannunzio confirmed that the FBI is conducting an investigation. He assisted federal agents who reviewed and collected documents March 12 from the credit union's Wilkes-Barre office. The attorney also said there were four NCUA officials at the credit union's office finishing an audit that day.
“Obviously, there is an (FBI) investigation but I can't discuss it,” he said.
Carrie Adamowski, an FBI spokesperson in Philadelphia, confirmed a statement reported by the local media that Sean Quinn, director of the FBI's Scranton office, said he “considered the credit union as a witness and a victim in an ongoing criminal investigation. Individual employees of the credit union were potential targets of the investigation.”
Although Quinn declined to say Payne was a target of the investigation, he did say that arrests would be forthcoming but he would not specify who might be arrested, according to Adamowski.
However, Adamowski confirmed that Quinn told a local news site, citizensvoice.com, that he believed what he called “corruption” led to Payne's death.
In addition to Payne, there were two other Wilkes-Barre City Employees FCU employees. Payne was appointed manager 10 years ago, according to Pannunzio.
“At this point I don't think there is any indication of any (monetary) losses, according to my knowledge at this time,” said Pannunzio, adding that the credit union has been open for business and that no members have closed their accounts.
“We are complying with everything we have to do,” he said. “We are working full time on this. The credit union is running smoothly.”
NCUA financial performance reports show Wilkes-Barre City Employees FCU posted a net worth of 12% over the past five years, equal to its peer average.
From 2009 to 2013, the credit union's total loans have remained steady averaging about $4.2 million annually. In the same years, its loan income has averaged about $790,000 annually, NCUA financial reports show.
However, the cooperative's net income has plummeted from $218,425 in 2009 to $81,091, according to NCUA financial performance reports.
The Payne incident is the second such suicide reported in less than a year.
John C. DuPree Jr., volunteer manager of the $2.4 million Shiloh of Alexandria Federal Credit Union, committed suicide on April 4, 2013 – just one day before the co-op was closed by the NCUA, which determined the credit union was insolvent and had no prospect for restoring viable operations.
An NCUA investigation discovered a suicide note on DuPree's credit union computer, which stated that he had been “stealing money from Shiloh Credit Union for several years now” and “betrayed the trust that everyone placed in me.”
It wasn't reported whether Payne left a suicide note.
When Pannunzio spoke with Payne that March 10 morning, he had no indication that Payne was despondent, Pannunzio said.
The board of directors issued a public statement the next day saying that they were deeply saddened by Payne's death.
“The board members would like to extend their heartfelt sympathy and condolences to Jim's wife and family,” the board statement read. “Jim's colleagues in the Pennsylvania credit union movement will greatly miss Jim's dedication, fervor and commitment to the credit union philosophy.”
At press time, a Mass of Christian Burial was scheduled for March 15 at Our Lady of Hope Parish in Wilkes-Barre, according to an obituary notice. Donations may be made in Payne's memory to the March of Dimes Northeast Division, 90 S. Commerce Way, Suite 320, Bethlehem, PA 18017, or to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, 1525 Valley Center Parkway, Suite 180, Bethlehem, PA 18107.