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Slidell contractor Jeffrey Dunlap of Phoenix Civil Contractors, left, and his attorney Walter Becker walk to Federal Court in New Orleans Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, where Dunlap pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud involving a $22 million line of credit from First NBC Bank.

Willie Sutton denied saying he robbed banks because that's where the money is, although he did say he enjoyed his work, which earned him some $2 million.

That was a lot of money back then — Sutton pulled off his last heist in 1952 — but he sure did things the hard way, casing a joint meticulously, toting a gun, breaking in at dead of night, cracking a safe and making a quick getaway some 100 times.

That may have made him America's greatest ever bank robber, but it sounds like a high-stress existence. It's just as lucrative, and much better for the blood pressure, to work with an inside man.

And if that inside man should be the president of the bank, so much the better. Just ask Jeffrey Dunlap, Gregory St. Angelo and Kenneth Charity. They all walked away with many millions after befriending a party the feds coyly refer to as “Bank President A” but will formally identify as Ashton Ryan when they charge him.

When that will be is anyone's guess, for a cat with a mouse is quick with the coup de grace compared with a federal prosecutor stringing a suspect along. But curl up with any of three bills of information and you'll be in no doubt that Ryan's turn to face a judge will come one of these days.

As for Dunlap, St. Angelo and Charity, they probably won't wind up doing so much time in the pen as Sutton, but this may be scant consolation. They have all apparently agreed to squeal on Ryan and will thus earn some remission, but big-league bank fraud always merits more than probation.

No doubt they all figured they were safe with the boss's imprimatur on their scams, as they probably were so long as New Orleans-based First NBC remained in business. The board of directors there evidently failed to keep tabs on Ryan, while both state and federal regulators were remarkably somnolent as he ran the joint into the ground, investigators discovered after it was too late.

The First NBC collapse in 2017 was a spectacular one, costing the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation $1 billion — its biggest hit since the great financial disaster and recession of 2008 — and bursting the Ashton Ryan bubble for good.

Until then Ryan was the star of the New Orleans banking world, having founded First NBC in 2006 to cap a long career in financial institutions. Far from the staid and conservative stereotype of the banker, Ryan was so much the man about town that his name was often mentioned in Nell Nolan's social column. He played a leading role in various charities and foundations, while commanding a salary commensurate with his apparent talents. He earned $1.6 million in 2015. So not for the first time we are left to wonder why a man capable of achieving wealth and eminence by honest means would put it all at risk. It seems that Ryan's policy was to offer depositors above-market interest rates while making huge loans to risky ventures, which might have proven disastrous for an honest banker. Ryan, according to the feds, certainly was not that, advancing staggering sums to his accomplices and instructing them to provide bogus collateral.

The bank's attorney, St. Angelo, copped $52 million while developer Charity was a relative piker, with $18 million. Both are expected to plead guilty. Slidell contractor Dunlap already has, in a classic case of you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.

In 2009, when Ryan was planning to develop a tract he co-owned on the north shore, he hired Dunlap's firm for the job. At the same time, he handed Dunlap a line of credit and told him to submit bogus financial statements every time a renewal or increases was needed. One of the assets listed in support of that line of credit was the bill from Dunlap's firm that Ryan never paid. By the time First NBC was closed down, Dunlap owed the bank $22 million, and Ryan owed his firm $5.5 million.

Perhaps Ryan figured he was too smart to get caught, and we'd never realize he went into the banking business because that's where the money is.

Email James Gill at Gill1407@bellsouth.net.