ORLANDO, Fla. — It was a “Christmas surprise,” and not a very merry one, according to court documents that depict a fight over employees between two Orlando banks.
A mass exodus of Seacoast commercial banking employees took place after business hours on Dec. 26, with a dozen suddenly quitting without notice. One Seacoast executive was watching the new Star Wars movie on his holiday when he was notified of the resignations at 5 p.m. that day.
Hours later, on Dec. 27, many of those employees already started working at another Orlando bank — the newly established One Florida Bank, Seacoast said in a lawsuit filed this month in federal court against One Florida and five ex-Seacoast executives.
Before they left, some of the employees accessed Seacoast’s confidential information to apparently steal customers at their new jobs at One Florida, Seacoast alleged in the lawsuit.
“The sudden resignations ... and the hollowing-out of Seacoast’s Commercial line of business in the Central Florida Region threatened Seacoast with the immediate defection of customers in its Central Florida commercial portfolio,” the lawsuit said. “This mass resignation represented a loss to Seacoast of approximately half of the employees in its Central Florida commercial line of business, including its entire management structure,”
Last week, U.S. District Judge Roy Dalton ruled the employees and One Florida aren’t allowed to possess any of Seacoast’s private records it keeps on customers or contact those customers, according to court documents.
“One Florida Bank is complying with Judge Dalton’s order,” said Robert Thompson, acting as a spokesman for One Florida, in a statement Tuesday.
“One Florida Bank hired experienced, well-respected bankers from Seacoast who were at-will employees and never instructed or requested any Seacoast employee to bring confidential information with them to One Florida Bank. One Florida Bank respects confidential business information and looks forward to expressing its position in detail in the next few weeks,” Thompson added.
Seacoast declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Before the mass resignations, Seacoast’s commercial banking side employed 25 employees who had a portfolio of loans valued at more than $640 million last year, according to court documents.
There was no sign employees were unhappy or looking for new jobs, Seacoast said in the suit, adding it had given them “numerous and substantial bonus incentives.”
But without giving the customary two weeks notice, 12 employees announced they were quitting immediately on Dec. 26., a plan that had been in the works for weeks with One Florida, the lawsuit claimed.
Matthew Diemer, a former Seacoast senior vice president, sent all the resignation letters together to Seacoast executive Chuck Cross. Nobody else communicated with Seacoast or offered to help with a transition plan, the lawsuit said.
Diemer told Cross that “One Florida Bank wanted to take a one-time expense hit during 2019 to cover all the starting bonuses that it was paying to these Seacoast employees to get them to switch banks,” the lawsuit said. “ ... The one-time ‘expense hit’ that Diemer indicated One Florida Bank had taken would have been in excess of $1.4 million” to cash them out of their Seacoast end-of-the-year bonuses and stock options if they had stayed.
The lawsuit also accused its former employees of stealing trade secrets to try and poach customers.
Seacoast has developed a system full of confidential information about its clients which took six months to develop. The bank tracks the month’s most profitable commercial banking clients in real-time and records other information like loan values, deposits, and their customers’ habits and preferences, according to court documents.
Diemer was one of the few Seacoast employees who was allowed full access into the database, Seacoast said in the lawsuit.
After the employees quit, Seacoast investigated its networks and technology systems and found a suspiciously higher than normal spike of users accessing the information. The IP address matched Diemer’s company laptop, Seacoast said, adding other resigning employees had also suspiciously used the system that month.
“Most alarmingly, Seacoast’s Information Security team has been able to confirm that Diemer not only methodically reviewed confidential and trade secret customer information ... on December 20th and 26th, but also that he printed a substantial amount of confidential information ... to a local printer in the Lake Mary office, only hours before he would notify Cross of his team’s resignation en masse,” the lawsuit said. “The only plausible explanation for Diemer’s activity is that he wanted to unlawfully obtain confidential information about Seacoast’s commercial banking customers to take that stolen information with him when he left to work for One Florida Bank.”
One Florida Bank president Rick Pullum had touted Diemer and his other new hires in a story published Dec. 27 by the Orlando Business Journal.
“We are focused on growing the leading community-focused bank in Central Florida and bringing on experienced community bankers who understand the importance of relationship banking is a top priority for us — Matt and his team check both of these boxes,” Pullum said in the story.
The former Seacoast senior and associate vice presidents named in the suit are listed as Diemer, Joseph DeSousa, Jose Caebier, Brian Wickman and Garry Littler.
One Florida Bank, a new community bank in Orlando, is headquartered at 3660 Maguire Blvd.
Seacoast is headquartered in Stuart, Fl., and runs a downtown Orlando office at 250 N. Orange Ave.
Last year, it finalized a $115 million merger with First Green Bank.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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