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The Best & Worst of 2014

6 min read

Worst Guarantee

The June sentencing hearing for career criminal Jim Bolt of Rogers revealed that the biggest victim of his scheme to steal unclaimed assets held by state governments was actually Arvest Bank of Fayetteville. Bolt set out to claim almost $1.9 million that belonged to 401(k) accounts for former employees of a defunct California company, but the third-party administrator that held the assets required him to submit a medallion stamp guaranteeing that he was who he claimed to be. According to FBI Special Agent Bob Cessario, Bolt was somehow able to persuade an Arvest officer to issue the medallion, and when Bolt’s fraud was uncovered, Arvest had to honor its guarantee. Without commenting specifically on the case, bank spokesman Jason Kincy said, “Banks do have insurance that cover these types of transactions and potential losses, including Arvest Bank.” 

Best Investment 

PAM Transportation Services of Tontitown held a Dutch auction to buy back 675,000 shares of its stock at $20.50 a pop in January. That’s a cool $13.8 million. The stock closed at $49.70 on Dec. 15, making those shares worth $33.5 million.

Best — and Biggest — Puzzle

That would be the Bachman Wilson House, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house bought by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and moved from New Jersey to the museum grounds in Bentonville. The house will be reassembled, piece by numbered piece, with the wood framing to begin in January. Visitors have been bringing lawn chairs to the museum grounds to watch the work progress.

Worst Denial

In early February, our phones were ringing off the hook with the tip that Delta Trust & Banking Corp. of Little Rock was in the process of being sold to Simmons First National Corp. of Pine Bluff. David Garner, Simmons’ executive vice president and spokesman, told us at the time that the bank “can’t discuss anything that we’re working on.” But then he added, “That’s totally a rumor” that Simmons was buying Delta.

About six weeks later, though, Simmons and Delta announced the deal, with Simmons First acquiring the outstanding common stock of Delta Trust in a transaction valued at about $66 million.

Best Way to Lose a Friend

The best way to end a friendship is to fight over money and then sue. Exhibit A could be the case of Dr. Eren Erdem and Dr. Scott Schlesinger. They were so close that they vacationed overseas together and became neighbors in Little Rock’s Chenal Valley. But then in 2014, Erdem accused Schlesinger in a lawsuit of betraying his trust and cheating him out of untold dollars. In his responses, Schlesinger has denied wrongdoing and insisted that Erdem was properly compensated for the services he performed at Schlesinger’s clinic. 

The case is pending.

Best Change in IRS Policy

The New York Times did a public service with its reporting on the federal government’s practice of seizing money from people whose only crime was making deposits of less than $10,000 to sidestep a bank’s requirement to report deposits of $10,000 or more. As a result of that reporting, the IRS changed its policy on seizing money. The chief of criminal investigations for the IRS said it would no longer target money from “legal sources” in “structuring” cases unless there were exceptional circumstances. That was good news for Arkansan Dinanath Mulloli. The nearly $34,000 that was seized from him in September 2013 was returned to him in November because of the change in policy.

Worst Financial Projections

Directors of Crittenden Regional Hospital learned on Aug. 19 that its monthly revenue was only $2 million — about half of what they had previously been led to believe — while expenses were about $5 million. As a result, the hospital closed and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Best Leveraging of a Big Break

Architect Harrison French, founder of Harrison French & Associates of Bentonville, did a project for some friends of Bud Walton, Sam’s brother, back in 1993. One of those friends happened to work in the store planning department at Wal-Mart, which started sending work to French’s firm. “Basically, as that department grew, we grew with them,” French said, and now his firm, the fourth-largest architectural firm in Arkansas, does work not just for Wal-Mart but for Sam’s Club, Walgreens, 7-Eleven, Subway and Sonic

Worst Dividend News

Windstream Holdings Inc.’s planned spinoff of telecom assets into a real estate investment trust is innovative and could have great upside for the stock price, but shareholder dividends will take a hit. Windstream has traditionally paid $1 per share, even as the IRS ruled that, in 2012 and 2013 at least, more than half was a return of capital rather than a taxable dividend. And the portion that was taxable was subject to the usual dividend tax rate of 15 or 20 percent. The split companies expect to pay a combined dividend of 70 cents. And 60 cents of that — the REIT dividend — must be taxed as regular income, which can reach above 40 percent for the highest tax bracket.

Best Art Exhibit

The State of the Art exhibition at Crystal Bridges is a survey of contemporary American art that was assembled after museum curators undertook months of road trips covering 100,000 miles to search out talented but overlooked artists. The exhibition, which opened in September and closes Jan. 19, has gained national attention.

Best Turn of the Corner

That appears to be Little Rock’s Main Street, along which renovation is proceeding apace and which has attracted a number of new restaurants. Even Joe Fox, owner of Community Bakery and a Main Street pioneer, thinks “critical mass” along the corridor may have been reached.

Best Exit Strategy

It seemed odd when John Simone was named CEO at USA Truck of Van Buren in February 2013, while the man he replaced, Cliff Beckham, stayed at the company. Beckham returned to his previous role as CFO and helped Simone’s turnaround program before resigning Sept. 30. He and Simone had agreed to work together through Simone’s transition until the timing was right for Beckham to leave.

Worst Fire Bug 

In August, Lacey Rae Moore pleaded guilty to two counts of arson for setting fires in the north and south buildings of the Forest Place Apartments complex in Little Rock in 2013. Moore agreed to pay restitution of more than $12.5 million for damage caused by seven fires at the apartment complex, including five for which criminal charges were dropped as part of her plea agreement. In October, the 44-year-old woman was sentenced to 16 years in federal prison.

Best New Name

In an eat-or-be-eaten environment, several Arkansas banks have signaled their intentions to conquer new markets by dumping geographically limiting names. Our favorite is the new name of the bank formerly known as First National Bank of Green Forest: Anstaff. The name is an amalgam of Anderson and Stafford, the two families that helped organize the Carroll County bank in 1931 and who are still active in its management. Other contenders: Carroll County competitor The Bank of Eureka Springs rebranded as Cornerstone Bank in 2008, First National Bank & Trust of Mountain Home changed its name to Integrity First Bank in 2012, Pine Bluff National Bank was renamed Relyance Bank in 2013, and First National Banking Co. of Ash Flat renamed itself FNBC Bank in January.

Coolest New Job

Don Bacigalupi is leaving in January as president of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the museum startup funded by the Walton family, to head the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, a $700 million museum funded by “Star Wars” creator George Lucas that’s being built in Chicago.

Best Addition to the Skyline

Simmons Bank, the shortened brand name being used by Simmons First National Bank of Pine Bluff as it expands inside and outside the state, appeared on the state’s tallest building in April. Naming rights to the 40-story building in downtown Little Rock passed to Simmons when it acquired Metropolitan National Bank of Little Rock in a bankruptcy auction in 2013.
The building is now the Simmons Tower.

Best Transition From Worker to Boss

We’re arguing for Mike Gueringer and Paul Reesnes, cabinet builders for the aviation industry in central Arkansas who decided to open their own business. Twenty-five years later, Custom Aircraft Cabinets in Sherwood employs 218 workers and sees annual revenue of $20 million to $30 million. It manufactures high-end cabinetry and upholstery products for the private, corporate and head-of-state aircraft market throughout the world. “We worked on the bench and we knew what it was like to be a number instead of a person,” Reesnes told Arkansas Business in February.

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