Business

JoCo man bought a bank upon ‘revelation from God.’ Now $30M in debt, he’s bankrupt

Olathe home builder Don Bell had been named the 2006 Citizen of the Year by the city’s chamber of commerce.
Olathe home builder Don Bell had been named the 2006 Citizen of the Year by the city’s chamber of commerce. The Kansas City Star

With more than $30 million in debt and owning little more than a house, two old cars and a stray cat, former Olathe home builder and banker Donald H. Bell Sr. has declared bankruptcy.

Bell and his wife, Faith, had built Don Bell Homes in Olathe into one of Johnson County’s most prolific builders in the 1990s and 2000s. From that base and driven by instructions from God, Bell bought Security Savings Bank. He also expanded into various real estate ventures that included building a string of Value Place extended stay hotels.

By the start of 2007, the Olathe Chamber of Commerce declared Bell its 2006 Citizen of the Year. Among his listed accomplishments were the works of Don Bell Homes and Security Savings and the many philanthropic contributions of Don and Faith Bell, including to MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Heart to Heart International and the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop Farm in Olathe.

According to a 2004 brochure from Security Savings, the couple had considered retirement in 1988. He was 56 and established as a successful home builder.

Instead, according to the brochure, a “revelation from God instructed him to forgo retirement plans and to take a leap of faith by purchasing a bank.”

Federal regulators approved Bell’s purchase of a savings and loan in Garden City, Kan., which later opened an Olathe branch, grew through a merger and made Olathe its headquarters.

Financial troubles began brewing inside Security Savings as early as 2006, and they surfaced in 2008.

An investor in Security Savings’ parent company accused Don Bell in federal court of fraud. Bell, the lawsuit said, had induced the investment in the Brittany Savings Corp. parent company by misrepresenting the financial condition of Security Savings.

Brittany Savings Corp. at the time of the lawsuit was seeking $15 million in capital backing through the U.S. Treasury’s TARP program aimed at supporting FDIC-insured banks and thrifts in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis.

In early 2009, difficulties at many of the Value Place extended stay hotels Bell had developed led a Chicago lender to sell 15 of the properties that were collateral for debts of Bell-related companies.

And in October 2010, Security Savings Bank failed. Depositors were protected, but the FDIC said it expected to lose $82.2 million.

An attorney representing the couple in the bankruptcy case could not be reached Wednesday.

Bankruptcy records filed at the end of August show Donald Howard Bell Sr. and Faith Naomi Bell, his wife, owned a house in Olathe, two cars each more than a decade old, their Social Security, about $83,000 in retirement accounts and a “stray cat” that the couple declared along with clothing, jewelry and Seraphim Angels.

On the other side of the ledger stand debts exceeding $30 million. Among them are a $15 million obligation to Private Bank & Trust Co. in Kansas City and an $11.86 million obligation to GEM VP Lending in Chicago. The two large debts are each labeled “Value Place law-suit” in the bankruptcy filing.

Other creditors include a variety of banks and contractors. Many of the debts are listed with an “unknown” amount owed.

The Bells also listed ownership of Bell Development Inc., a construction company the couple says owes them $1 million.

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