Dead CEO of failed Bridgeport bank worried over his safety, sister told feds

Dead CEO of failed Bridgeport bank worried over his safety, sister told feds

Marek Matczuk walks out of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse March 4 after being charged with embezzling millions of dollars from Washington Federal Bank for Savings. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

In a sealed deposition, Janice Gembara Weston said John Gembara began bringing Marek Matczuk to the bank’s annual board meeting after the ouster of a board member.

After the collapse of Bridgeport’s century-old Washington Federal Bank for Savings and the death of its president and CEO John F. Gembara, his sister told federal authorities investigating the failure of their family-owned bank that he had been worried about his safety, court records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.

According to Gembara’s sister Janice Gembara Weston, who also was a member of the bank’s board of directors, his concern stemmed from the ouster of a board member and shareholder named Joseph Mazurkiewicz.

She said in a now-sealed deposition that her brother began bringing Marek Matczuk, a hulking contractor nicknamed Shrek, to the bank’s annual board meeting, which Mazurkiewicz continued to attend even after being dumped.

“I remember one meeting with — going to the issue with Joseph Mazurkiewicz,” ,” Weston, who was the bank’s senior vice president, testified in a deposition. “He was very disenchanted with being kicked off the board. But he would still come to the annual board meeting.

“And, for a number of years . . . John always was worried,” she said in the sworn statement, “I don’t know, what did he think he was going to do. But he brought Shrek upstairs like his bodyguard, standing there.”

Matczuk is a contractor who did odd jobs around the bank and obtained millions of dollars in loans from Washington Federal that records show never were repaid.

On Dec. 3, 2017, days before federal authorities shut down the bank over a massive fraud scheme, Gembara was found dead at Matczuk’s million-dollar Park Ridge home, seated in a chair inside the contractor’s bedroom, with a rope wrapped around his neck and the rail of a staircase.

The Cook County medical examiner and Park Ridge police department ruled his death a suicide.

But his widow and others involved in the case have questioned that finding. They’ve said they suspect Gembara might have been killed as federal regulators prepared to shut down the bank over $90 million in bad loans.

The Park Ridge home of Marek Matczuk, a Washington Federal Bank for Savings customer, where bank president John F. Gembara was found dead on Dec. 3, 2017. Kevin Tanaka / Sun-Times file
The Park Ridge home of Marek Matczuk, a Washington Federal Bank for Savings customer, where bank president John F. Gembara was found dead on Dec. 3, 2017.

So far, 11 people have been indicted in the continuing investigation of the bank’s collapse, including Matczuk, 58, and Ald. Patrick Daley (11th), who’s facing tax charges. Matczuk is charged with embezzling more than $6 million.

Matczuk told the Park Ridge police he’d known Gembara for about 25 years.

Matczuk’s lawyer says the contractor wasn’t aware that Gembara saw him as providing security.

“He was never hired to be a bodyguard,” says Lawrence Hyman, Matczuk’s lawyer. “He didn’t tell Marek that. He was always around the bank, doing work.”

According to court records, the bank chief’s sister told federal regulators in April 2019 that Gembara began using Matczuk for security at some point after Mazurkiewicz was ousted as one of the five members of the board that oversaw the bank at 2869 S. Archer Ave.

Though Mazurkiewicz was ousted from the board, he kept attending shareholder meetings because he owned “maybe 500 or 1,000” shares of stock in the bank, Weston testified.

Mazurkiewicz, 62, who lived in Bridgeport, died of congestive heart failure five days after Gembara died.

Mazurkiewicz — described in bank documents as a “self-employed subcontractor in home construction” — served on the bank’s board in the 1990s, when Gembara’s father Emil Gembara was chairman. It’s unclear how long he was on the board or when he was dumped, but it was years before federal regulators closed the bank on Dec. 15, 2017.

“The old guy is who we always dealt with,” says Mazurkiewicz’s sister Lynda Marquardt, referring to the late Emil Gembara. “That’s how my brother got invited on the board.

“We became affiliated with Gembara when we went to the bank for a loan,” she says, sometime in the early 1980s.

Weston and her attorney Thomas Breen didn’t respond to messages seeking comment on her deposition.

Weston and the three other surviving Washington Federal board members — George Kozdemba, a retired employee of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago; William Mahon, a deputy commissioner with the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation, and Lester Stepien, comptroller of a meatpacking plant — all were questioned under oath by federal regulators following the bank’s collapse.

The depositions they gave also have been provided to federal prosecutors involved in the criminal case involving the bank’s failure, though they remain shielded from public view under an order issued by U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall.

But four pages of Weston’s deposition were attached to a motion filed May 24 by Robert M. Kowalski, a lawyer and developer who has been charged with bankruptcy fraud and embezzling more than $8 million from the bank.

Robert M. Kowalski walking into the Dirksen Federal Building on March 4. Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times
Robert M. Kowalski walking into the Dirksen Federal Building on March 4.

The motion from Kowalski, a longtime friend of the Gembara family, asks a judge to order the exhumation of Gembara’s body, saying, “The investigation is flawed.”

According to prosecutors, Kowalski violated the judge’s protective order by releasing a portion of Weston’s deposition along with other documents that haven’t been made public. The Sun-Times obtained copies of those motions and documents, which have since placed under seal, out of public view.

Kendall has sent Kowalski back to the Metropolitan Correctional Center, revoking his bail for violating the terms of his release pending trial.

The judge hasn’t ruled on Kowalski’s motion seeking another forensic examination of Gembara’s body.

As federal regulators were swarming Washington Federal, a loan processor named Alicia Mandujano told “Weston on Nov. 28, 2017, that she participated in a fraud scheme with former President Gembara in creating false loan reports, loan documents, loan payment histories and loan files,” according to a report from the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency that Kowalski filed with the judge.

The bank board suspended Gembara from his post that same day in 2017 and Mandujano the following day.

Five days after he was suspended, Gembara was found dead inside Matczuk’s home, which was being foreclosed on by U.S. Bank, seeking to collect more than $1.2 million from the unpaid mortgage.

Washington Federal held a third mortgage on the home, for $662,000.

U.S. Bank’s foreclosure suit has since been dropped, and Matczuk and his family still live in the house.

Washington Federal Bank for Savings, 2869 S. Archer Ave., before it was shut down in December 2017 for “unsafe or unsound practices” days after its president John F. Gembara was found dead at a bank customer’s home in what authorities called a suicide. Google Street View
Washington Federal Bank for Savings, 2869 S. Archer Ave., before it was shut down in December 2017 for “unsafe or unsound practices” days after its president John F. Gembara was found dead at a bank customer’s home in what authorities called a suicide.

Matczuk told the police he received several calls on Dec. 1, 2017, from Gembara saying “that he is in ‘trouble’ with his bank and needed a place to stay” for the weekend.

Matczuk has told the police that he met Gembara that evening in Wicker Park at a house the contractor was building with a loan from the bank, that Gembara parked his car in the garage, and Matczuk drove them to his Park Ridge home.

Matczuk said he and his wife gave Gembara their bedroom while they slept in the living room. The next afternoon, Matczuk’s son told the police he drove Gembara to Home Depot in Niles to buy a green rope that he needed to hang Christmas decorations at his home in Palos Hills.

They returned to the Matczuk home, where the family said Gembara spent the rest of the day in the couple’s bedroom and that they checked on him the next day and found him sitting in a chair with the green rope wrapped around his neck and the other end wrapped around the railing of a spiral staircase.

Matczuk “related he does not know where the rope came from and he has never seen it before,” according to a Park Ridge police report. “He denied having any knowledge about Mr. Gembara’s suicide or being complicit in the suicide.”

Matczuk told the police he had an outstanding loan with Gembara’s bank, though, on a copy of the report they released, the police blacked out the amount of money owed.

Two days after Gembara’s death, the comptroller of the currency agency’s director for special supervision put out a 19-page report saying Matczuk and his wife owed the bank $13.2 million on five loans that dated to Sept. 15, 2000. The director concluded that $11.6 million of the money was a total loss and that it was doubtful the federal government could recover the remaining $1.6 million from Matczuk.

Though Gembara’s bank records indicated that each of the loans was 27 days past due, regulators found that the Matczuks hadn’t made any payments on four of those loans for at least four years.

READ SUN-TIMES’ INITIAL WASHINGTON FEDERAL INVESTIGATION

The first story in the Sun-Times investigation of the failed Bridgeport bank Washington Federal Bank for Savings, published March 4, 2018.
The first story in the Sun-Times investigation of the failed Bridgeport bank Washington Federal Bank for Savings, published March 4, 2018.

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