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CA Mortgage Regulator In Hot Seat

Marybel Batjer's directorship at Nevada bank at issue

September 27, 2004

By PATRICK CROWLEY


A top California regulator of mortgage brokers has drawn the scrutiny of The Terminator.

Governor and former actor Arnold Schwarzenegger is determining if his Cabinet Secretary, Marybel Batjer, has violated ethics standards or has a conflict of interest over a business relationship.

As part of her official duties Batjer assists in the oversight of mortgage brokers, banks and other lenders. On Sept. 16 she joined the board of directors of Nevada-based Bank Holdings, which last month moved into the California market through the purchase of CNA Trust.

CNA Trust is located in Costa Mesa and has a loan production office in Sacramento.

Batjer, 49, is the former chief of staff of the governor of Nevada and was appointed Cabinet Secretary by Schwarzenegger after his election last year.

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Margita Thompson said in a statement that state lawyers are studying Batjer's role at the bank. If any conflicts are detected or arise "appropriate action will be taken," she said.

Batjer did not return a phone call to comment.

Thompson said Batjer was unaware of Bank Holding's move into California when she took the position the board of directors.

A consumer rights group that the situation is too ripe for potential conflicts and that Schwarzenegger would considering asking for Batjer's resignation.

Dough Heller of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica said Schwarzenegger "shouldn't allow these conflicts and contradictions to persist, and he should put Batjer on the next moving truck out of the capitol.

"But (Schwarzenegger) has not asked Batjer to step down," Heller wrote in a posting at www.ArnoldWatch.org, "despite the fact that as Cabinet Secretary Batjer is the governor's liaison to the Department of Corporations, which regulates financial services in the state and oversees lending operations such as those owned by Batjer's new bank.

"For the financial services industry, which has given more than $4.7 million to (Schwarzenegger's campaign) this is better than a revolving door," Heller said. "They have brought a high-level administration official into their industry, giving her 6,900 stock options from Bank Holdings, while she is still working for the governor and keeping an official eye on the regulators, creating a conflict of interest most industries could only dream of."

Hal Giomi, chairman and chief executive of Bank Holdings, told The Associated Press that California financial regulators do not have authority over the company's California interests because its charter is in Nevada.

Concerns have also been raised about Batjer's connection to Nevada's casino industry. From 1998 to 2000 she worked as an executive at the Mirage Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, one of the gambling's strip's top attractions.

Schwarzenegger has said he is against casino gambling in California, but in August he announced agreements with five Indian tribes to operate slot machines across the state and build one of the world's largest casinos in San Francisco.


Patrick Crowley is a political reporter and columnist and former business writer for The Cincinnati Enquirer. Email Patrick at: [email protected]

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