WASHINGTON The imperial-looking eagle came down from Riggs Bank branches as Washington's oldest bank, sullied by a money-laundering scandal, was absorbed in a merger with a much larger bank from out of town. Signs with the more modern, abstract PNC Bank logo replaced the Riggs eagle as the $643 million acquisition of "the bank of presidents" took effect Friday.
At the branch at Indiana Avenue and Seventh Street, N.W., the imposing, old stone building with Gothic flourishes still bore a blue Riggs banner above the entrance on Friday morning. Old-fashioned bronze plaques on either side of the door said "RIGGS" and "Interest Paid on Savings Deposits."
"It's going to be a little bit of a pain," Ksenia Luchaninova, a manager at nearby "701," said of the changeover's effect on the restaurant's account at the bank. "But not too bad."
There were only a few customers in the capacious branch lobby. Coffee and boxed doughnuts beckoned on a table. PNC Financial Services Group Inc., now the 19th-largest bank in the country after the merger with Riggs National Corp., is offering free access to ATMs nationwide and expanded branch banking hours to lure new customers.
Pittsburgh-based PNC, which has about 775 branches in six states, also plans to add 30 new branches over the next three years in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, where Riggs has had a total 51. The focus is on garden-variety retail banking, in a Washington metropolitan market that analysts describe as lucrative, crowded and competitive. Already shuttered and sold are Riggs' hallmark embassy and international businesses, which got the bank into trouble.
A few blocks from the Indiana Avenue branch, at the federal courthouse, Riggs pleaded guilty in January to a felony charge of failing to report suspicious transactions involving foreigners including former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and members of his family. Riggs also agreed to pay a $16 million fine, said to be the largest criminal penalty of that type ever imposed on a bank the size of Riggs, a midsize institution with some $6.4 billion in assets. It came atop a record $25 million civil fine levied by a Treasury Department agency a year ago.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina, noting Riggs' 169-year-old history as a prestigious Washington institution, said at a March hearing that it now stands "as a greedy corporate henchman of dictators and their corrupt regimes."
A federal prosecutor has said that new charges will be brought soon against individuals involved in the Riggs affair, based in large part on information obtained through the bank's cooperation in the ongoing criminal investigation.