Man admits helping embezzle $190K to buy boat named after Harry Potter spell

Man admits helping embezzle $190K to buy boat named after Harry Potter spell

William Kowalski admitted to his role in embezzling money in order to purchase the Sea Ray 460 Sundancer known as “Expelliarmus.” | Sea Ray

William A. Kowalski struck a two-year deal with federal prosecutors known as a deferred-prosecution agreement in the case involving a Bridgeport bank. If he holds up his end of the bargain, prosecutors are expected to dismiss the charges. 

A man caught up in the massive fraud investigation of a Bridgeport bank admitted Monday that he and others embezzled at least $190,000 from the bank so they could buy a boat named after a Harry Potter spell.

Rather than plead guilty after being charged in a lengthy indictment last month, though, William A. Kowalski struck a two-year deal with federal prosecutors commonly known as a deferred-prosecution agreement.

If Kowalski holds up his end of the bargain — including by cooperating with the feds and making restitution payments as scheduled — prosecutors are expected to dismiss the charges against him.

It’s the latest in the fallout from the failure of Washington Federal Bank for Savings and the death of its president, John Gembara, both in 2017. Regulators shut down the bank less than two weeks after Gembara was found dead. He was seated in a chair, a rope around his neck, in the master bedroom of the $1 million Park Ridge home of his bank customer and friend, Marek Matczuk, who also now faces federal charges.

In all, 15 people have been charged as a result of the investigation that followed. Among them is Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson, who has pleaded not guilty in a related prosecution and faces trial next week. Earlier this month, former bank worker Alicia Mandujano pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States.

William Kowalski’s seven-page deferred-prosecution agreement lays out the details of the $190,000 embezzlement. It says Kowalski engaged in real estate acquisitions through several entities, and it says his brother Robert Kowalski, an attorney, invited him to buy a boat with him in 2007.

Robert Kowalski also faces federal charges. He represents himself in the case and is being held in the downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center.

The document says that Gembara — identified only as “Individual A” — learned of their plans and encouraged them to join him in buying a bigger boat.

In July 2007, the trio purchased a Sea Ray 420 Sundancer boat named “Expelliarmus” — a reference to a disarming spell featured in the Harry Potter books and movies — for $450,000, according to documents. The deal included a $200,000 down payment, it said.

Robert Kowalski had Washington Federal issue a $190,000 check that month payable to his brother to use as part of the down payment, the document said. William Kowalski “had never executed any documents” necessary to legitimately obtain that money, it said, but he “came to understand” that his brother was able to get it because Gembara “used his position at Washington Federal to obtain the funds without supporting documentation.”

William Kowalski endorsed the $190,000 Washington Federal check over to the seller of the boat and “never intended to repay this $190,000 to Washington Federal,” according to his agreement. The remaining $10,000 of the down payment came from a check drawn on an account of one of the Kowalskis’ businesses at Washington Federal, it said.

The three men also signed a retail installment contract to get $250,000 in financing for the boat purchase, according to the document. William Kowalski never made any payments but understood his brother or Gembara would, it said. William Kowalski also later came to understand that a $160,000 loan he executed with Gembara in March 2008 was used to account for the down payment money.

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